Was George Santos The Dashing ATM Robber Gentleman Bandit?

George Santos, who as far as we know may actually be Andy Kaufman [Dok, you say everyone is Andy Kaufman! — Rebecca], allegedly ran a credit-card-skimming operation in Seattle in 2017, according to the man convicted of the crime and deported to Brazil for it. Gustavo Ribeiro Trelha, who roomed with Santos at the time, sent a sworn declaration to US law enforcement agencies detailing the accusation, according to Politico, which obtained a copy of the declaration and also interviewed Trelha by phone.

At this point, we’re ready to believe just about anything about Santos, including the possibility that he’s actually an alien time traveler fucking around with us while he’s on spring break from Tralfamadore Polytechnic.

In the declaration (translated from his native Portuguese), Trelha writes, “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.” He said that he recognized Santos on TV after he was elected to Congress.

Politico reports that postal receipts show the declaration was sent to the FBI, the US Secret Service, and the US Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, by Trelha’s New York attorney, Mark Demetropoulos.

And by golly, there are some definite connections: Politico reports it’s seen a copy of a lease showing that Trelha rented a room in Santos’s apartment in Winter Park, Florida, starting in November 2016. As Politico notes, Santos

was previously questioned about the Seattle scheme by investigators for the U.S. Secret Service, CBS News has reported. He was never charged, but the investigation remains open. Santos also told an attorney friend he was “an informant” in the fraud case. Trelha insists he was its mastermind.

And golly, what a tale! The two met through a Facebook group for expatriate Brazilians living in Orlando in the fall of 2016. Trelha writes that while he rented from Santos, that was “where and when I learned from him how to clone ATM and credit cards.”

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.

He alleges Santos had a warehouse in Orlando where he

had a lot of material — parts, printers, blank ATM and credit cards to be painted and engraved with stolen account and personal information.

Santos gave me at his warehouse, some of the parts to illegally skim credit card information. Right after he gave me the card skimming and cloning machines, he taught me how to use them.

We do have to say that while this sounds plausible, the idea that George Santos actually mastered any real skills, even criminal ones, seems out of character. We can see him lying about being a criminal genius, though, and lying well enough to fool someone else into actually doing crimes.

After training under Santos in the ways of the scammer — we can certainly envision a montage here, with hilarious failures and no actual success — Trelha says, he flew to Seattle and got arrested right quick, on April 27, 2017, when a security camera captured him removing a skimming device from a Chase ATM.

At the time of his arrest, Trelha had a fake Brazilian ID card and 10 suspected fraudulent cards in his hotel room, according to police documents. An empty FedEx package police found in his rental car was sent from the Winter Park unit he shared with Santos.

But did they scan it for alien DNA? Big oversight, guys.

It gets, as you’d expect, stupider. Trelha wrote in his declaration that Santos had promised him to split the money from their frauding 50-50, and that it was all very high-tech:

We used a computer to be able to download the information on the pieces. We also used an external hard drive to save the filming, because the skimmer took the information from the card, and the camera took the password.

It didn’t work out so well, because I was arrested.

Has Netflix or HBO snapped up the movie rights yet?

Trelha said Santos visited him in jail in Seattle, and told him “not to say anything about him.” What’s more, he says Santos “threatened my friends in Florida that I must not say that he was my boss.” The friends, he wrote, were “all afraid of something happening to them,” which is why he’s since lost track of them.

Then there’s this, which has the ring of absolute authenticity: Trelha concludes the narrative by saying, “Santos did not help me to get out of jail. He also stole the money that I had collected for my bail.”

That’s our George all right!

Politico adds that in an interview, Trelha said that

before flying to Seattle, Santos had traveled to Orlando to pick up $20,000 in cash he instructed Leide Oliveira Santos, another roommate, to give him from a safe. Santos had promised to hire El Chapo’s lawyer for Trelha, he said.

Again, that’s very Santosian or Santosesque: not just any lawyer, but El Chapo’s lawyer. What’s more, we get a little more documented fibbing by Santos:

In an audio recording of Trelha’s May 15, 2017 arraignment in King County Superior Court, Santos tells the judge he’s a “family friend” who was there to secure a local Airbnb if the defendant was released on bail.

Santos also claimed to the judge he worked for Goldman Sachs in New York, a key part of his campaign biography he later admitted wasn’t true.

They should have asked his wife, Morgan Fairchild, whom he has seen naked more than once.

But nah, it all evaporated. No El Chapo lawyer, not even an el cheapo lawyer. Santos didn’t even call Saul — or Lionel Hutz — and Trelha never heard another word from him. Oliveira Santos couldn’t contact him, either. By then, Santos had run off to Venice, where he took to calling himself Tom Ripley.

Trelha couldn’t make bail, and pleaded guilty to “felony access device fraud,” for which he spent seven months in prison. After that, he was deported to Brazil in 2018, where we hope he’s kept his nose clean.

Trelha says he has witnesses who can back him up on all this, and Politico closes the story thusly:

A federal prosecutor who handled Trelha’s case described the scheme as “sophisticated,” adding that the Seattle portion was only “the tip of the iceberg,” according to court records reported by CBS News. But a person close to the investigation who is not authorized to speak publicly said they saw no evidence that prosecutors did forensic reports on Trelha’s phone or seemed motivated to pursue international co-conspirators.


We tried to contact Rep. Santos about all this, but all we could learn was that the congressman was last seen talking to a detective in Los Angeles who tried to follow him when he realized Santos was Keyzer Söze, but by then he’d vanished.

[Politico / ATM image by Mike Mozart, Creative Commons License 2.0, cropped and digitally altered]

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Brazil’s Lula seeks to reverse Amazon deforestation

Shaking a traditional rattle, Brazil’s incoming head of Indigenous affairs recently walked through every corner of the agency’s headquarters — even its coffee room — as she invoked help from ancestors during a ritual cleansing.

The ritual carried extra meaning for Joenia Wapichana, Brazil’s first Indigenous woman to command the agency charged with protecting the Amazon rainforest and its people.

Once she is sworn in next month under newly inaugurated President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Wapichana promises to clean house at an agency that critics say has allowed the Amazon’s resources to be exploited at the expense of the environment.

As Wapichana performed the ritual, Indigenous people and government officials enthusiastically chanted “Yoohoo! Funai is ours!’’ — a reference to the agency she will lead.

Environmentalists, Indigenous people and voters sympathetic to their causes were important to Lula’s narrow victory over former President Jair Bolsonaro.

Now Lula is seeking to fulfill campaign pledges he made to them on a wide range of issues, from expanding Indigenous territories to halting a surge in illegal deforestation.

To carry out these goals, Lula is appointing well-known environmentalists and Indigenous people to key positions at Funai and other agencies that Bolsonaro had filled with allies of agribusiness and military officers.

In Lula’s previous two terms as president, he had a mixed record on environmental and Indigenous issues. And he is certain to face obstacles from pro-Bolsonaro state governors who still control swaths of the Amazon. But experts say Lula is taking the right first steps.

The federal officials Lula has already named to key posts “have the national and international prestige to reverse all the environmental destruction that we have suffered over these four years of the Bolsonaro government,” said George Porto Ferreira, an analyst at Ibama, Brazil’s environmental law-enforcement agency.

Bolsonaro’s supporters, meanwhile, fear that Lula’s promise of stronger environmental protections will hurt the economy by reducing the amount of land open for development, and punish people for activities that had previously been allowed.

Some supporters with ties to agribusiness have been accused of providing financial and logistical assistance to rioters who earlier this month stormed Brazil’s presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court.

When Bolsonaro was president, he defanged Funai and other agencies responsible for environmental oversight. This enabled deforestation to soar to its highest level since 2006, as developers and miners who took land from Indigenous people faced few consequences.

Between 2019 and 2022, the number of fines handed out for illegal activities in the Amazon declined by 38% compared with the previous four years, according to an analysis of Brazilian government data by the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental nonprofit groups.

One of the strongest signs yet of Lula’s intentions to reverse these trends was his decision to return Marina Silva to lead the country’s environmental ministry. Silva formerly held the job between 2003 and 2008, a period when deforestation declined by 53%. A former rubber-tapper from Acre state, Silva resigned after clashing with government and agribusiness leaders over environmental policies she deemed to be too lenient.

Silva strikes a strong contrast with Bolsonaro’s first environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who had never set foot in the Amazon when he took office in 2019 and resigned two years later following allegations that he had facilitated the export of illegally felled timber.

Other measures Lula has taken in support of the Amazon and its people include:

  • Signing a decree that would rejuvenate the most significant international effort to preserve the rainforest — the Amazon Fund. The fund, which Bolsonaro had gutted, has received more than $1.2 billion, mostly from Norway, to help pay for sustainable development of the Amazon.
  • Revoking a Bolsonaro decree that allowed mining in Indigenous and environmental protection areas.
  • Creating a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, which will oversee everything from land boundaries to education. This ministry will be led by Sonia Guajajara, the country’s first Indigenous woman in such a high government post.

“It won’t be easy to overcome 504 years in only four years. But we are willing to use this moment to promote a take-back of Brazil’s spiritual force,” Guajajara said during her induction ceremony, which was delayed by the damage pro-Bolsonaro rioters caused to the presidential palace.

The Amazon rainforest, which covers an area twice the size of India, acts as a buffer against climate change by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide. But Bolsonaro viewed management of the Amazon as an internal affair, causing Brazil’s global reputation to take a hit. Lula is trying to undo that damage.

During the UN’s climate summit in Egypt in November, Lula pledged to end all deforestation by 2030 and announced his country’s intention to host the COP30 climate conference in 2025. Brazil had been scheduled to host the event in 2019, but Bolsonaro canceled it in 2018 right after he was elected.

While Lula has ambitious environmental goals, the fight to protect the Amazon faces complex hurdles. For example, getting cooperation from local officials won’t be easy.

Six out of nine Amazonian states are run by Bolsonaro allies. Those include Rondonia, where settlers of European descent control local power and have dismantled environmental legislation through the state assembly; and Acre, where a lack of economic opportunities is driving rubber-tappers who had long fought to preserve the rainforest to take up cattle grazing instead.

The Amazon has also been plagued for decades by illegal gold mining, which employs tens of thousands of people in Brazil and other countries, such as Peru and Venezuela. The illegal mining causes mercury contamination of rivers that Indigenous peoples rely upon for fishing and drinking.

“Its main cause is the state’s absence,” says Gustavo Geiser, a forensics expert with the Federal Police who has worked in the Amazon for over 15 years.

One area where Lula has more control is in designating Indigenous territories, which are the best preserved regions in the Amazon.

Lula is under pressure to create 13 new Indigenous territories — a process that had stalled under Bolsonaro, who kept his promise not to grant “one more inch” of land to Indigenous peoples.

A major step will be to expand the size of Uneiuxi, part of one of the most remote and culturally diverse regions of the world that is home to 23 peoples.

The process of expanding the boundaries of Uneiuxi started four decades ago, and the only remaining step is a presidential signature, which will increase its size by 37% to 551,000 hectares (2,100 square miles).

“Lula already indicated that he would not have any problem doing that,” said Kleber Karipuna, a close aide of Guajajara.


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Perspective – ‘Quite possible’ Bolsonaro won’t accept results of Brazil’s presidential election

Issued on:

It was a nail-biting race, but in the end Brazil’s former – and now future – left-wing president came out on top. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has defeated far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in a highly polarised presidential run-off. The win marks an incredible comeback for Lula, who after spending 580 days in prison on corruption charges will return to office for a third term. But can he lead such a divided country and will Bolsonaro accept the results? We discuss this and more with our Perspective guest Marieke Riethof, a senior lecturer in Latin American politics at Liverpool University in the UK.

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