Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.There is something odd about the relationship between GOP fabulist George Santos and Andrew Intrater, a sophisticated and wealthy New York financier, Republican donor, and cousin to sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Intrater was one of Santos’ top political donors. At Santos’ behest, he invested hundreds of thousands of dollars with a firm where Santos worked. And even after this company was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of running a Ponzi scheme that threatened Intrater’s investment, Intrater and his domestic partner continued to pour money into Santos’ political campaign. What’s the explanation for his curious and sustained support for Santos? Intrater, Mother Jones has learned, the wealthy head of a sizable investment fund—seemingly as savvy an investor as they come—has told associates that he, like others, was conned by Santos.
The bizarre tale of Santos, the world-champion Long Island liar and conniver who’s now in Congress, has myriad subplots: his alleged criminal past in Brazil, the mysterious origins of millions of dollars he claims to have earned in the past three years, his suspicious campaign finance shenanigans, and much more. One of these involves his interactions with Intrater, who hit the headlines in 2018 for having hired Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, as a business consultant after Intrater made a whopping $250,000 contribution to Trump’s inauguration committee. Intrater ran an investment business then named Columbus Nova that had deep and direct ties to Vekselberg’s Renova Group conglomerate. In April 2018, Vekselberg and the Renova Group were sanctioned by the Treasury Department for assisting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “malign activity around the globe.” After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Spanish authorities seized Vekselberg’s $90 million yacht at the request of the United States.
Intrater has been one of Santos’ most generous patrons. During Santos’ first congressional bid in 2020, Intrater and his girlfriend, Diana Pentinen, each donated the maximum amount of $5,800 to his campaign. In 2022, they went much further, sending over $67,000 to Santos’ campaign and political committees backing Santos. Though Intrater made donations to over two dozen other Republican House and Senate campaigns that year, Santos, by far, received the most support. Intrater also donated $100,000 to Rise NY PAC, a New York state political committee connected to Santos. (Santos’ sister, Tiffany, was paid by this PAC.) Pentinen donated to no federal candidates other than Santos. Intrater and Pentinen each also donated $60,829 to then-Rep. Lee Zeldin, the GOP candidate for New York governor.
And there’s more: Intrater had a significant financial connection to Santos.
In 2020 and 2021, Santos worked as the New York representative for a Florida-based investment firm called Harbor City Capital. But on his financial disclosure forms covering those years he listed no income from the company. (Santos, though, did receive some form of payment this firm.)
In April 2021—while Santos was mounting his second bid for Congress—the SEC filed a complaint charging that Harbor City and its CEO, JP Maroney, had mounted an extensive Ponzi scheme. The agency asserted that Maroney had pocketed more than $4.8 million of the $17.1 million he raised from investors. Santos was not named in the complaint, and he has denied any wrongdoing. Harbor City was essentially forced out of business at this point.
Santos went on to form a mysterious company that supposedly earned him millions—but that’s another story. One intriguing thread in the Harbor City Capital narrative is the Intrater angle.
As the Washington Post reported, Intrater paid $625,000 to Harbor City. The money didn’t come from Intrater’s main company, which is now called Sparrow Capital. Its source was a firm registered in Mississippi named FEA Innovations that lists Intrater as its only officer. It’s unclear what FEA Innovations does. The company seems to have no website and no internet presence.
The payment from FEA Innovations occurred before the SEC publicly accused Harbor City of being a fraudulent outfit. In an exhibit attached to the SEC complaint, a SEC accountant who reviewed the financial records of Harbor City noted that the “deposit does not identify what it is for.” But a person in contact with Intrater says this money was an investment in Harbor City made by Intrater at Santos’ urging. Intrater, this source tells Mother Jones, believed he “was going to get a return on his investment.”
Though Intrater is a successful fund manager, he was fooled by Santos, the person adds: “Santos presented this thing to Andy that here is a great investment.”
If that’s the case, the con went on for a while. Santos was able to hornswoggle Intrater even after the SEC alleged Harbor City was a Ponzi scheme. According to Federal Election Commission filings, Intrater and Pentinen made most of their donations to Santos following the SEC’s filing of its complaint against Harbor City on April 21, 2021. Even though Santos was connected to a company credibly accused of fraud that might have swindled $625,000 from Intrater, Intrater and his girlfriend dramatically increased their donations to Santos.
The pair, in 2021, gave $10,000 to a pro-Santos PAC on March 3—weeks before the SEC complaint. In December of that year and in May and September of 2022, they donated $57,400 to Santos’ campaign and other entities supporting him. Of the $100,000 Intrater contributed to Rise NY, half of it came in June and August 2022, over a year after Harbor City had been accused of running a scam.
Intrater and Pentinen continued their donations to Santos after the SEC complaint in part because Santos told them that he also was a victim of the firm’s alleged misdeeds, the Intrater associate says. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Santos had said to people that he had invested millions of dollars of his own family’s money in the firm. He also claimed to have raised $100 million for the company, though, according to the SEC complaint, Harbor City raised only $17 million.
Intrater did not respond to a request for comment. When a Mother Jones reporter reached Pentinen by phone, she said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” She hung up and did not respond to a follow-up text.
On the internet, you can find people who point to Intrater’s support of Santos and declare that there is a nefarious Russian connection to Santos. That could well be a stretch—especially if Intrater’s account of being scammed by Santos is accurate. (Vekselberg remains under sanctions. Intrater cannot legally use his cousin’s money. After suing the Treasury Department in 2019 over the sanctions’ impact on his own business, Intrater reached a settlement that allowed him to sell off investments he previously made in partnership with the Renova Group.) But the Santos-Intrater link, given the money involved, deserves scrutiny.
As of now, the holy grail in the Santos saga is a clear account of these unanswered questions: how and whether Santos truly earned between $3.5 million and $11.5 million in income and dividends from a company called the Devolder Organization, which he set up after the SEC filed its complaint against Harbor City and where Santos got the $705,000 he loaned his winning campaign. Santos has refused to provide a thorough explanation for these crucial points. Instead, he has offered vague and contradictory accounts. Consequently, every stone deserves turning over, including those that lead to or from the cousin of a Russian oligarch.
Meanwhile, Intrater has told associates that he is trying to get back from Harbor City his $625,000.