Former U.S. Rep. George Santos' lawyer expressed optimism about plea negotiations in Santos' criminal fraud case Tuesday, successfully fending off prosecutors' attempts to speed up the ousted congressman's trial.
In Santos' first court appearance since he was expelled from Congress earlier this month, his attorney, Joseph Murray, argued that it was premature to bring the September trial forward while the two parties were in talks to resolve the case.
"We should focus on the plea deal. I believe they can be fruitful," Murray told Judge Joanna Seybert in the federal court in Long Island. He also argued that he was "struggling" to keep up with "voluminous materials" produced by the government during the discovery process.
Seybert sided with Murray, saying she would try to move the case "as expeditiously as possible" but that September seemed like the earliest possible date based on her current caseload. She set the next hearing in the case for Jan. 23.
Santos, wearing a blue blazer over a dark sweater, declined to comment on the case to reporters as he left the courthouse, saying to one, "It's cold, go home."
Santos earlier this month became only the sixth lawmaker in history to be expelled from the U.S. House of Representatives.
In an interview with WABC radio that aired early Tuesday morning, Santos said he hopes to eventually regain the trust of the American people and return to public office.
"I'm not done with public service, I want to go back to Congress," he said. "I'm not saying today, I'm not saying tomorrow. I'm 35, I have a lot of things I need to take care of first, I think we all know."
The ex-lawmaker faces a slew of criminal charges, including allegations that he defrauded campaign donors, lied to Congress about his wealth, received unemployment benefits while employed, and used campaign contributions to pay for personal expenses like designer clothing. Among the charges are allegations that he made unauthorized charges on credit cards belonging to some of his donors.
Santos pleaded not guilty to a revised indictment in October.
Prosecutors revealed in a court filing Monday that they were negotiating with Santos to potentially resolve his criminal case without a trial.
In an interview on CBS New York that aired Sunday, Santos said he hadn't ruled out pleading guilty, saying "there's obviously conversations taking place, especially after what happened in Congress, and we'll see."
Santos was elected last year after campaigning as a self-made Wall Street whiz, but was revealed after the election to have been a fabulist who had lied about where he worked, where he went to college and big chunks of his personal background.
Since leaving Congress, Santos launched an account on the website Cameo, where the public can pay him for a personalized video message. In the televised interview, Santos said he made more money in a week on the platform than his annual salary as a congressman.
A special election will be held Feb. 13 to elect his successor in a House district that includes a mix of wealthy Long Island suburbs and a working-class section of Queens.
That race will likely pit former U.S. Rep. Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat who previously held the seat before running unsuccessfully for governor, against one of a number of Republicans.
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