Brazilian ATM thief reportedly says Santos was "in charge" of skimming scheme
The U.S. Secret Service has received and is reviewing a sworn declaration from a Brazilian man who claims Rep. George Santos was "in charge of" a fraud scheme that led to the man's arrest in 2017 for installing skimmers at a Seattle bank ATM, a person familiar with the matter confirmed to CBS News.
Santos was interviewed in 2017 by Secret Service investigators, and the probe remains open, according to two sources.
The declaration is a "significant" development, said A.T. Smith, a former deputy director of the Secret Service.
"Could this jumpstart a new inquiry? Yes," said Smith, who is now a law enforcement analyst for CBS News. "Probably what the service would want to do, they would probably need to interview that individual again personally and take a sworn statement themselves."
The declaration was obtained and published by Politico. In the document, Gustavo Ribeiro Trelha claimed Santos taught him how to use skimmers — which steal personal information from cards inserted into ATM machines — when they were roommates near Orlando, Florida.
"I am coming forward today to declare that the person in charge of the crime of credit card fraud when I was arrested was George Santos / Anthony Devolder," Trelha wrote in the declaration, referring to a name Santos used in the past. The declaration was sent by an attorney for Trelha to the Secret Service, a U.S. attorney's office and the FBI.
Trelha was arrested at Seattle's Pike Place Market in 2017 and later that year entered a guilty plea to one federal count of felony access device fraud and was deported to his native Brazil. The night of his arrest, investigators recovered an empty FedEx package bearing the address of Santos' Florida apartment from Trelha's rental car, leading investigators separately from two agencies, the Seattle Police Department and the Secret Service, to Santos. The Secret Service is the federal agency charged with investigating credit and bank card fraud.
Santos was questioned by phone by a Seattle detective, according to a law enforcement source, and later tracked down in New York City by Secret Service agents, turning over two cellphones during an interview there according to the two sources familiar with the federal investigation.
Santos was neither charged nor named a suspect in the investigation. Santos has declined to discuss the case. An attorney for Santos did not reply when asked about Trelha's declaration.
At a bail hearing for Trelha in May 2017, Santos traveled to Washington State and appeared on Trelha's behalf. Santos described himself as a family friend, and claimed to the judge that he was an aspiring politician who worked for the investment firm Goldman Sachs. After being elected to Congress years later, he acknowledged that he never worked for the financial firm.
But Trelha tells a different story in his declaration, saying Santos "stole" money that Trelha's family had sent for bail, and he portrayed Santos as the brains of the operation.
"Santos taught me how to skim card information and how to clone cards. He gave me all the materials and taught me how to put skimming devices and cameras on ATM machines," Trelha said in the declaration.
Trelha wrote in his declaration that he visited an Orlando warehouse where Santos "had a lot of material — parts, printers, blank ATM and credit cards to be painted and engraved with stolen account and personal information."
The warehouse "is a lead that should probably be run out" by investigators, Smith said, adding that if there's a record of Santos renting storage space there, "it would add some credence to the declaration."
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