Sold: yacht with waterfall. Price: 19 million dollars. Broker: George Santos.

The Neverland yacht in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 7, 2023. (Scott McIntyre/The New York Times)

The Neverland yacht in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 7, 2023. (Scott McIntyre/The New York Times)

A $19 million luxury yacht deal brokered by Rep. George Santos between two of his wealthy donors has drawn the attention of federal and state agencies investigating the congressman’s campaign finances and personal business dealings.

The sale, which has not yet been reported, is one of about a dozen leads being pursued by the FBI, the US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn and the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, people familiar with the investigation said.

Prosecutors and FBI agents have in recent weeks attempted to question the 141-foot superyacht’s new owner – Raymond Tantillo, a Long Island auto dealer – about the boat and his dealings with Santos, including his campaign fundraising efforts.

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Tantillo bought the boat from Mayra Ruiz, a Republican donor in Miami. Santos negotiated the payment — $12.25 million upfront, with an additional $6.5 million in installments — and advised the two on the logistics of handing over the yacht, according to a person familiar with the sale, who spoke in the show a few weeks before his election took place November.

It’s not clear what laws, if any, were broken in the transaction. Several voting rights experts said that if the sale was aimed at helping Santos’ campaign, it may violate federal law capping campaign donations. It could also be illegal for Santos to tie any commission he receives for sales to past or future donations.

But even if Santos didn’t break any laws, the deal serves as further evidence of an emerging narrative being peddled by those around him politically – that Santos appears to have used his campaign not only to win elected office, but also as a means of networking -Exercise to ingratiate yourself with rich donors and enrich yourself on these contacts.

Santos has denied wrongdoing. Joe Murray, an attorney representing Santos in possible criminal cases, declined to comment, as did spokesmen for the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn and the Nassau County District Attorney, who is working with federal agencies on the investigation.

Santos’ campaign finances and personal business dealings came under scrutiny after the New York Times revealed in December that Santos made up or embellished most of his resume. The Times has since reported odd omissions in his campaign filings, an unregistered fund linked to him, and other irregularities in his finances.

A key mystery is Santos’ sudden, inexplicable jump in earnings and where he got the money to borrow around $700,000 over the course of his 2022 campaign.

In his first application for Congress in 2020, he reported income of $55,000; Two years later, he reported a salary of $750,000 and over $1 million in dividends from his company, the Florida-based Devolder Organization, which Santos described as a “capital introductory business.”

Santos, a Republican, has said publicly that his company brokered deals between wealthy clients. In an interview with Semafor in December, he tried to explain his work by saying that if a client wanted to sell an airplane or a boat, he would “put out that feeler” among his contacts, adding that he’d landed a few have contracts worth millions.

“If you’re looking at a $20 million yacht,” he told Semafor, “my brokerage fee can be anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000.”

As it turns out, there was actually a yacht worth nearly $20 million.

Records show that John H. Ruiz, a Miami attorney and businessman, bought a superyacht from Italian yacht builder Mangusta in 2019. The yacht, then listed for €18 million or $20 million, accommodates 12 guests and seven crew members and features an infinity pool, waterfall and outdoor shower. It was called “Namaste”, a greeting in Hindi.

Ruiz, a Coral Gables attorney specializing in healthcare claims and malpractice claims, rose to fame last year when he took his data analytics company public in a reverse merger with a special purpose vehicle. The company MSP Recovery briefly had a record-breaking valuation of nearly $33 billion, making Ruiz a multiple billionaire.

But the stock promptly plummeted to a dollar a share, and in June 2022, he and the company’s co-founder loaned the company $113 million to make up for a lack of liquidity.

Ruiz did not donate to Santos’ campaign, but his wife Mayra was a particularly generous supporter. Campaign funding records show that Mayra Ruiz pledged $10,800 to the Santos joint fundraising committee on March 31, 2022. She later became one of the first to give money to Santos after he won the election.

Santos failed to disclose one of its Devolder customers. But in December, The Daily Beast identified the Tantillo Auto Group — Tantillo’s network of Long Island auto dealerships — and two organizations linked to Ruiz’s family as Devolder’s customers. The Daily Beast quoted Mayra Ruiz as saying the family hired Devolder in early 2022, but gave no further details.

Mayra Ruiz did not respond to requests for comment. Christine Lugo, an attorney for John Ruiz, said her client “is not interested in making any statement other than the fact that he has already publicly stated that he does not know who George Santos is and has never contributed to his campaigns.” and has never done any business with him.”

Santos was reportedly mixing campaign fundraisers with personal business opportunities. Several donors have described encounters with Santos at fundraisers, where he described deals he could negotiate with other donors in industries like insurance and pharmaceuticals, or told them about donors looking to sell businesses or luxury items.

Santos would offer to match people with the implicit understanding he would make a cut, they said. The pitches were often coupled with appeals for donations. None of the other possible arrangements described to the Times appear to have resulted in any deals.

Among the donors he courted, Santos appears to have become close to Tantillo, according to people familiar with their relationship.

Tantillo donated more than $17,000 to Santos’ campaign and affiliated committees; His estranged wife is said to be giving at least $5,000 more, as is another ex-wife. (Contribution limits in the 2022 New York congressional election were changed slightly after a state court ruling sunk a ballot and forced an August primary; the Federal Election Commission ruled candidates could raise additional funds.)

In August, Santos approached Tantillo with an offer to sell him the yacht. The deal was negotiated in Coral Gables in late September, and Santos suggested moving the boat to a free trade zone at the port, the person said.

It’s common for boat sales to take place in a free trade zone before returning overseas — often to the Bahamas — and with a new owner, according to another person familiar with the sale and Miami’s port system.

As negotiations progressed, Santos pressed Tantillo for additional donations and financial help for his campaign and for fellow Republicans as Election Day drew near, the person said. Tantillo provided no additional funds.

“I have every reason to believe that Tantillo will not be billed for anything, including buying a boat or making campaign donations,” said Robert Curtis Gottlieb, an attorney for Tantillo.

At least one other major donor was asked for a major donation weeks before the election, the Times reported.

After weeks of negotiations, Tantillo agreed to purchase the yacht in September 2022, according to a person familiar with the sale. Santos’ deal was brokered with Ruiz, according to emails to the Times.

On November 3, 2022, “Namaste” departed for the Bahamas from her berth in West Palm Beach, Florida. Fifteen days later, port records show, the boat returned to Florida under a new flag—the Cayman Islands—a different name and a new owner.

Tantillo renamed the boat “Neverland”.

© 2023 The New York Times Company Sold: yacht with waterfall. Price: 19 million dollars. Broker: George Santos.

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