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The Fabulist review: timely tale of the rise and fall of George Santos

<span>Photograph: Julia Nikhinson/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Julia Nikhinson/Reuters

The days of George Anthony Devolder Santos, AKA “George Santos”, as a member of Congress appear decidedly numbered. On Tuesday, a formal expulsion resolution reached the floor of the House. He may be gone by the end of the week. His fate probably rests with Mike Johnson, the Bible-thumping speaker, and whether he decides he can live with an even narrower majority. Santos, from Long Island, New York, labors under a 23-count federal indictment and a damning report from the House ethics committee.

Related: ‘George Santos models himself pretty directly off Trump’ – biographer Mark Chiusano

The Department of Justice has charged him with conspiracy, wire fraud, falsification and identity theft. The committee found that the freshman congressman “sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit”. He also “blatantly stole from his campaign” and lied “to his constituents, donors, and staff about his background and experience”.

Into this cesspool jumps Mark Chiusano, an alum of Newsday, the storied Long Island paper, with The Fabulist, an engrossing look at Santos’s rise and crashing fall. With detail and wry humor, Chiusano fillets his subject. The Fabulist is an amalgam of dish and supporting receipts, an ideal stocking stuffer for political junkies and voyeurs.

This is a book Santos never wanted published. Truly.

“Just make sure you don’t put any liability on the publisher and on yourself,” he warned Chiusano, in a call.

“I will go to the depths of hell to get a restraining order form [sic] you,” Santos also texted. “I will move forward with legal ramifications if you do not stop … if you don’t stop contacting me I will file a police report for harassment.”

Suffice to say, Chiusano and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, remained undeterred. The threats were just that. His own woes are far greater.

Santos is a grifter not a fool, a man capable of reading a room, a valuable skill given his career choices. Rather than face certain defeat, he will not seek re-election. Over Thanksgiving, he let it be known he expected to be expelled but not silenced. Like Samson, he appears to want to take others down with him. “Let my soul perish with the Philistines,” to quote the Book of Judges.

“They all act like they’re in ivory towers with white pointy hats and they’re untouchable,” Santos said. “Within the ranks of United States Congress, there’s felons galore, there’s people with all sorts of shyst[er] backgrounds.”

It is worth remembering that the New Jersey Democratic senator Bob Menendez, and his wife, are under federal indictment for bribery and extortion. Gleaming cars, bags of cash and gold bars complete the Menendez tableau. Who knows what else lurks elsewhere?

Chiusano regales his reader with tales of Santos grifts. No family member or friend was too close to be scammed. For one example, his father’s sister.

“Santos seems to have stolen from his Aunt Elma, according to a family member and a friend,” Chiusano writes. “One version of it, as per the relative, was that Elma gave her nephew money to pay her bills, and rather than passing it along to cover his aunt’s debts, he kept the money.”

Santos also contemplated ripping off his father, Gercino, Chiusano writes.

“He was 18 or so, and there was a particular bag in his father’s home that had important documents, passports, maybe money. The story was that Santos told this friend to take the bag and walk out the front, and he’d go out the back.”

Gercino caught the pair in the act, “took the bag, and his son, and they went back upstairs”.

Years later, Gercino and Aunt Elma helped post Santos’s $500,000 bail, according to published reports. Love can be blind.

Then there is Santos’s mother. He let the world know she died in 2016 as a result of a 9/11-related illness, an indirect victim of terror. She was “in her office in the South Tower on September 11, 2001” and “passed away a few years later when she lost her battle to cancer”, his campaign website still blares. In 2021, he tweeted that “9/11 claimed my mothers [sic] life” .

None of that is true. Immigration records place Santos’s mother, Fatima Devolder, outside the US on that dreadful day.

Chiusano also reports that after his mother died, Santos bummed cash off the local church and stiffed the funeral home.

“A source familiar with the funereal situation says the funeral home was never paid its debts, as of the spring of 2023,” Chiusano writes. The sum owed is at least $6,000.

Santos hankered for the better thing in life: Ferragamo, OnlyFans, Botox and stays in the Hamptons, to name a few.

Chiusano observes: “It seems to George Santos, even the death of the mother he loved, his mentor, his friend, the woman he dreamed with and dreamed for, could become an opportunity.”

Related: Tired of Winning review: Jonathan Karl on Trump as Hitler wannabe

Everyone and everything could be a mark.

“Trump was a pioneer on this particular blustering path to success,” Chiusano writes. “But Santos shows that path can be marched too by ordinary tricksters and clowns.

“He is part of a new generation, a sort of Shameless Caucus that includes Trump descendants like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Paul Gosar, who followed their mentor’s way in politics by embracing controversy and the limelight and little else. And for Santos, the shamelessness is a way of life that goes far beyond politics.”

He faces trial in September 2024 – two months before the presidential election Donald Trump seems bound to contest.