January 30, 2023

For scandalized Rep. George Santos (R-NY), politics is apparently a family business. 

Santos’ sister, Tiffany Lee Devolder, played a leading role in a little-known organization called Rise NY PAC. TPM reviewed thousands of state and federal campaign finance records related to the New York state-registered political committee, created in January 2021, and spoke to Republican operatives with knowledge of its operation.

The PAC formed what one New York GOP operative described as a supporting pillar of the myth that Santos constructed for himself. The committee received contributions from many of the same people who donated to his congressional campaign, appears to have employed staff who worked on his campaign, and, to top it off, was run by his sister, Devolder. It served as a vehicle to burnish his hitherto nonexistent credentials while also sprinkling money across the various related figures and businesses who swirled through Santos’ orbit. 

Attention on Devolder and Rise NY PAC comes as reporters and the public dissect Santos’ ascent to Congress, examining the various tales that the serial fabulist told during his rise. Devolder and Santos did not respond to requests for comment. And Santos’ sister isn’t the only interesting character involved in this chapter of his story. Rise NY PAC connected Santos to Scott Presler, a MAGA movement conspiracy influencer with a seven figure following on Twitter. 

The Man Who Would Be Kingmaker

State filings, old social media posts, and interviews suggest that Rise NY began at a time when Santos sought to project himself in the role of an influential Long Island Republican kingmaker. The group was ostensibly dedicated to “harnessing the untapped potential in voter registration for the Republican Party across New York State,” the archived version of the website explains.

Along with voter registration drives, a review of archived pages and the PAC’s social media accounts indicates it also acted in support of New York state Republicans and held events on Long Island for other GOP candidates, including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), throughout the 2022 election cycle. These events were “legitimate,” a GOP operative who was familiar with the group said. 

That activity is in keeping with what multiple sources who worked with Santos described as a strong desire to appear as an emerging power player in the Long Island suburbs and the broader world of the GOP. The curation of this image, one operative contended, was also why Santos’ federal campaign committee contributed money to numerous Republican candidates in Long Island, New York state, and across the country. 

Despite these lofty ambitions, the PAC raised and spent a relatively paltry sum for its overall mission. Per state campaign finance filings, Rise NY PAC spent a total of $314,491.72 out of a total of $314,431.00 in reported receipts in the 2021–2022 cycle. 

State filings show that nearly half of the money raised by the committee came via a single $150,000 contribution from Robert Mangi, a Long Island insurance executive. He did not return TPM’s request for comment. Other sources included contributions of $80,000 from Andrew Intrater, cousin to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Santos claimed in 2020 that Intrater was a “client” of his, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Some of that money went to Santos’ sister and to his business associates. 

Devolder, the congressman’s sister received a total of $21,450 from the PAC in five separate payments, listed as being for “Campaign Workers’ Salaries,” “Wages,” and “Professional Services.”  Multiple sources described Devolder as running the organization and, in her own contribution to her brother’s campaign, Devolder identified herself in a filing as “President of Rise PAC.” Around the same time she was receiving money from the committee, Devolder was facing eviction, the Daily Beast first reported. Landlords allege she hadn’t paid tens of thousands of dollars in rent on a rent-stabilized apartment. 

The One 57 Group, a firm operated by Santos’ campaign staffer-cum-contractor Sam Miele, received two payments totaling $9,965 from Rise NY, for what the PAC described in state campaign finance filings as being for “other.” Santos’ campaign treasurer, Nancy Marks, also earned money from Rise NY PAC. Former Santos campaign staffers have claimed to TPM that Marks dodged questions about the campaign’s books; one said Marks, not Santos himself, handled donations from anyone who wanted to give beyond the legal limit. Her firm, Campaigns Unlimited, received an even $10,000 from the PAC, while Marks was personally reimbursed $250 by the committee. Rise NY also spent $380 on “campaign literature” with a firm called GMG Marketing Resources — that company’s address is the same as one listed for Marks. 

RedStone Strategies LLC, a Florida firm incorporated by Santos’ former business associate Jayson Benoit, appears to have been paid $6,000 by Rise NY in a single payment for “professional services.” Rise NY gave an address for the RedStone Strategies LLC firm that’s associated with Benoit, but spelled it as “Red Stone Strategies.” 

Benoit and Santos worked together at Harbor City, an investment firm that was described in an April 2021 complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission as “a classic Ponzi scheme.” A company that Santos has described as his “family firm,” which he reported in federal financial disclosures as being the main source for his mysterious recent increase in wealth, is also linked to Benoit. Benoit did not respond to requests for comment. 

Also working on the PAC was a Long Island man named Harry Brar. A call to a number listed for Rise NY went to Brar’s voice mailbox, and state campaign finance filings show him receiving $41,909 from the committee across 10 payments, listed variously as being for “wages,” “professional services,” and for a “reimbursement.” Little information is available about Brar, and a person who picked up the phone at a number listed for him hung up once TPM identified itself.

Local news reports indicate that a man by Brar’s name was arrested in September 2022 on charges relating to a purported June 2021 incident in which Brar allegedly choked a child. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. Steve Raiser, an attorney for Brar, told TPM that the case had been referred to a grand jury, and that his client was not guilty. He declined to comment on TPM’s questions about Brar’s ties to Santos.

‘Trolling 101’

Many of Rise NY PAC’s voter registration drives were conducted at gas stations. It was part of a playbook pioneered by Presler, the MAGA influencer, to do GOP voter registration drives at gas stations while blaming President Biden and Democrats for rising prices at the pump.

Presler previously worked with ACT for America, which has been described as an anti-Muslim “hate group.” Like Santos, he gained steam within right wing activist circles in conjunction with the “Big Lie” movement that spread conspiracies about President Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. Presler was billed as a speaker at the so-called “Wild Protest” organized by “Stop The Steal” movement leader Ali Alexander, which was scheduled to take place outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 before it was scrapped due to the violence that erupted that day. Texts Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, provided to the House select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol and obtained by TPM also indicated Presler was a potential speaker at the Jan. 6 rally on the White House Ellipse where Trump spoke and urged the crowd to “fight like hell.” The messages showed he was one of the potential participants who sparked concerns from other Trump allies. 

Presler, who also held gas station voter registration drives in Florida, teamed with Rise NY PAC for similar events in Long Island early last year. One March 2022 event that received coverage from the New York Post featured Presler alongside several activists toting Rise NY PAC signs at a Long Island gas station, where they apparently tried to sign up GOP voters as they lined up to pay for gas. 

In an interview with the New York Post about the effort last March, Presler offered a simple explanation for the strategy.

“This is trolling 101,” he said. 

Social media posts show Presler headlining fundraisers for Rise PAC at Il Bacco, the Queens, New York restaurant where Santos spent so much of his campaign funds that it prompted questions from one member of his team. Rise was similarly fond of Il Bacco, records show the committee spent $2,848.14 in one day at the eatery. As with Santos’ campaign, meal and travel expenses were studded throughout Rise NY’s books. The PAC also dropped $577.51 at La Bonne Soup, a French bistro in Manhattan around the corner from Trump Tower, and paid $1,451.89 for a stay at an Orlando, Florida hotel chain. One $194.72 charge was paid to “Agoda,” the Singapore-based travel website, which Rise NY identified as being located in “Bangkock” Thailand. Under that typo, Rise said the payment was for “online ads.” 

Presler, who has boasted of never asking for donations for his work, was paid by Rise NY. According to its filings, the PAC paid him $5,000 in an expense listed as “other,” and another $750 for “professional services.” One GOP operative described the payments to Presler as a “retainer.” 

During a brief phone call Thursday, Presler declined to comment on his work with Rise NY and Santos’ sister. 

“I’m currently in Louisiana doing some work, so I appreciate you respecting that I’m not going to be able to communicate at this time,” Presler said. 

After that call, Presler blocked the reporter on Twitter. 

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