NEW YORK - A man who briefly worked as an aide to U.S. Rep. George Santos says he got his job after sending a series of payments to one of the Republican’s top deputies.
Derek Myers, 31, told staff of the House’s ethics subcommittee during an interview Wednesday that while he was trying to get a job in Santos’ congressional office in late January, he sent at least seven $150 payments to Santos’ director of operations, Vish Burra.
Myers shared details about the payments, including receipts and text messages, with The Associated Press. His account of how Burra helped him get hired hasn’t previously been reported and raises questions about potential ethical improprieties around Santos.
Myers said he began sending the money unsolicited because he believed Burra, a right-wing political operative, wasn’t getting paid by the House at the time and couldn’t afford food. But he said he also hoped the payments might help him secure a job.
"Burra was a powerful person," Myers told the AP. "I wanted him to advocate on my behalf."
Burra, a reliable presence beside Santos who helped escort his boss away from journalists after his arraignment in federal court last month, declined to comment.
House investigators questioned Myers about the payments, documented in receipts and text messages, as part of a probe into workplace sexual harassment allegations Myers made after being dismissed from Santos’ staff in February.
Myers, a former journalist, received a job offer to be a legislative assistant in late January, but lasted less than a week in the position. At the time, Santos told Myers he was concerned by the findings of a background check, which showed Myers had been charged with wiretapping in Ohio after publishing a recording of a trial.
In a February letter sent to the House Committee on Ethics, Myers said he was ousted after he spurned Santos’ sexual advances, accusing the congressman of running his hand along his inner leg and touching his groin while they were alone in the office.
Santos has denied the allegation, describing it as "comical."
The House Ethics Committee is investigating several allegations of improper behavior by Santos, who has admitted to fabricating much of his biography and is currently facing federal charges that include fraud and money laundering.
Last month, Republicans in the House sidestepped a vote to expel Santos, referring the matter to the ethics panel. The committee has not divulged whom it is interviewing or when a decision might be reached.
U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-NY) walks to a House Republican Caucus meeting at the Capitol on May 30, 2023 in Washington, DC. House Republicans are working on final negotiations for the bill created after the deal reached by the White House and House
On Wednesday, members of the committee spent two hours questioning Myers about his sexual harassment allegations, his relationship with Burra, and whether he’d witnessed any illegal behavior during his short stint in the office.
He described finding Burra online, then pushing for a job at Santos’s office out of an earnest desire to help the scandal-scarred representative.
Myers also provided documentation, including emails and text messages with staffers and receipts showing his Venmo payments to Burra.
In his interview, Myers said Burra didn’t ask him for money, but once requested that he "send more pizza," which he took to be a reference to the pizza emoji they’d used previously in Venmo subject lines.
The House investigators asked Myers about a text exchange he had with Burra on Jan. 29, days after he’d been offered the job. In that exchange, Myers had asked Burra, "Did you get payroll yet."
"No. You didn’t have to do that man," Burra replied, adding later, "I’m gonna pay you back for sure."
Myers acknowledged during his interview with the House investigators that he had secretly recorded at least one conversation with Santos and later shared it with a journalist. He also said he had gone to the FBI while still working for Santos, with the intention of possibly working as a confidential informant for law enforcement.
He said he decided to speak out about the harassment incident after he was forced to leave the job.
Associated Press wire services helped contribute to this report.