When Richard Osthoff's service dog, Sapphire, needed lifesaving surgery in May 2016, a veterinary technician in New Jersey took him aside and told him he knew a guy who runs a pet charity that could help raise the $3,000 to remove the stomach tumor, Osthoff tells local Long Island news site Patch. The guy was George Santos, who went by Anthony Devolder at the time, and the charity in question was Friends of Pets United. Santos is now in Congress, and House Republicans just put him on two committees despite his growing list of documented lies.
Osthoff is a disabled Navy veteran, and he was homeless at the time, unable to work due to a leg injury. Sapphire was a gift from a veterans' charity.
Santos agreed to raise the $3,000 and set up a GoFundMe page for Sapphire, but when that goal was reached, Santos never gave the money to Osthoff, according to Osthoff and a second New Jersey veteran, retired police Sgt. Michael Boll. Osthoff also gave Patch's Jacqueline Sweet copies of text messages in which Santos claimed Friends of Pets United was a respected 501c3 — it was not a registered charity, The New York Times found — and would use the funds raised for Sapphire to help other dogs since, according to his own vet, Sapphire wasn't a candidate for surgery.
"I contacted [Santos] and told him 'You're messing with a veteran,' and that he needed to give back the money or use it to get Osthoff another dog," Boll told Patch. "He was totally uncooperative on the phone." GoFundMe wasn't able to help at the time, he added. "I told Rich to go to the police, but we had limited information" about Santos.
Sapphire died in January 2017, without having undergone the surgery.
"I really felt bad for Rich," Boll told Patch. "He has PTSD, and this dog is his lifeline. When I first heard about it, I thought, this is going to kill him." Osthoff said Sapphire "never left my side in 10 years. I went through two bouts of seriously considering suicide, but thinking about leaving her without me saved my life." Read more about about Osthoff's Santos story at Patch.