Richard Osthoff and his cherished service dog Sapphire were living in a tent in an abandoned chicken coop next to Route 9 in Howell, New Jersey, in May 2016. Osthoff, a wounded veteran who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2002, told Patch that a veteran’s charity had given him the pit mix.
Osthoff, now 47, found out the surgery would cost $3,000 after Sapphire developed a potentially fatal stomach tumor. Osthoff recalled that a veterinary technician approached him and said, “I know a person who runs a pet charity who can help you.”
The vet tech informed him that his name was Anthony Devolder and that his animal charity was named Friends of Pets United.
Rep. George Santos of Long Island utilized several names before entering politics in 2020, including Anthony Devolder. After allegations that he faked a significant portion of his credentials during his congressional campaign, Santos is the subject of numerous criminal investigations. His resignation is being demanded by numerous Long Island lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans.
According to Osthoff and another New Jersey veteran, retired police Sgt. Michael Boll, who attempted to assist Osthoff in 2016, Santos shut down the GoFundMe he put up for Sapphire after it garnered $3,000 in donations online and vanished.
Osthoff reported that “He stopped responding to my SMS and calls.”
Ruby passed away on January 15, 2017. Osthoff claimed that he was unable to pay for the dog’s death and cremation since he had been out of work for more than a year due to a broken leg.
“I was forced to beg. One of the most humiliating things I’ve ever done, “He recalled.
Boll is a retired Marine Corps veteran and a sergeant with the Union Township Police Department who works with veterans. He established the organization NJ Veterans Network in 2017. He shared Sapphire’s GoFundMe page and knew Osthoff from his outreach work, so when he learned what had happened, he tried to mediate, he said Patch. He was acquainted with the vet tech.
I got in touch with [Santos] and told him, ‘You’re messing with a veteran,’ and that he had to return the money or use it to buy Osthoff another dog, the man claimed.
On the phone, he was utterly unhelpful.
According to Osthoff and Boll, Santos informed them that he intended to use the funds to aid other animals. He was informed by Boll that he was unable to do so because Osthoff and his assistance dog were the only beneficiaries of the funds.
Santos posted the following message on the GoFundMe page he created for Osthoff: “Dear everybody, When a veteran reaches out to beg for aid, how can you say no […].” The GoFundMe was later removed, and it is not listed on an internet archive database.
Early in May 2016, Santos created a GoFundMe website. Following that, according to Osthoff, he became difficult to reach.
Osthoff estimated that more than half of the gifts came from people he knew; “I just talked to him two or three times on the phone.” He wrote on Facebook on June 30, 2016, “We made the goal, and then some.”
When Santos refused to schedule the treatment at the NJ office and insisted that Osthoff take Sapphire to a veterinarian in Queens, New York, Osthoff’s excitement quickly turned to confusion.
As a result of Santos telling him he had “credit” with the Queens veterinary clinic due to frequently using it for his charity, the vet tech drove Osthoff and Sapphire there in August.
“It was a tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop, yet it seemed real. The local veterinarian indicated the tumor couldn’t be operated on “Osthoff said, adding that he was perplexed because the veteran from New Jersey didn’t voice any comparable worries.
Osthoff claimed that Santos then started to disappear. “I’m starting to feel like I was mined for my family and friends donations,” Osthoff texted him in November.
In their final phone call, Santos explained that he had donated Sapphire’s fundraising proceeds from GoFundMe to the organization to be used “for other puppies” because Osthoff “didn’t do things my way.”
In texts that Osthoff gave Patch from November 13, 2016, he pleaded with Santos to permit him to take Sapphire to a different vet, claiming, “My puppy is about to die because of god knows what.”
Santos answered, “Remember that GoFundme […] contributed because of our credibility. We adhere to the highest ethical standards and are audited like every other 501c3.”
“Sapphire is not a candidate for this procedure. Funds are transferred to the next animal in need, and we will use resources to keep her comfortable,” the message reads.
Santos promised to take Sapphire for an ultrasound in a text message, but Osthoff was unable to make it, and the procedure could not be performed in the New Jersey office that the Howell veterinarian had suggested because they wouldn’t accept his group’s mode of payment. Osthoff is unsure of the precise financial strategy that Santos was alluding to.
“And you’re not going along for the ride, so FOPU will only use the animal moving forward to manage this! We don’t give rides or drive people about; instead, we transport animals who are in need, not their needy owners “Santos sent Osthoff a text.
The New York Times revealed that the organization was not a legitimate nonprofit in December.
Osthoff claimed that after that talk, “he wouldn’t pick up the phone,” and the GoFundMe vanished. He claimed that he tried to contact GoFundMe but received no answer.
According to Boll, GoFundMe had fewer resources in 2016 to deal with phony fundraisers.
We didn’t know anything [about Santos], so I encouraged Rich to go to the police,” he said.
Osthoff said to Patch that at the time, he was focused with finding a place to live and that after doing so, he had intended to contact the police or hire an attorney. However, “as time went on, I guess I stopped thinking about it,” Osthoff said.
Fortunately, [Osthoff] was able to acquire a new service dog without delay, according to Boll.
When contacted for comment, the vet tech remained silent. Santos and his lawyer did not respond to emails about Osthoff’s allegations.
The charity’s operations are not fully disclosed. Around 2015, Santos started a Facebook page for the organization where participants exchanged pictures of dogs in need of foster homes or money. According to Barbara Hurdas, who met Santos while she worked with him at a Dish Network contact center in Queens in 2011, and who recalled him founding FOPU and promoting it on social media after he left Dish in 2012, the Facebook group was archived around 2020. Facebook groups cannot be destroyed, however groups that have been archived become invisible to users other than the group’s members, and Hurdas claimed that the group’s name had been changed to “The End.”
On his now-deleted personal Facebook page, Santos also posted GoFundMe appeals for canines in need of medical care; these were primarily for toy breeds with medical problems, Hurdas added.
After the scandal around Santos’ acknowledged resume fabrications erupted in December 2022, Osthoff and Boll called one another, shocked to see the Anthony Devolder who had stolen the fundraiser money years before.
In 2016, Boll said to Patch, “I truly felt horrible for Rich.”
“Because of his PTSD, this puppy is his only solace. When I initially learned about it, I feared for his life.”
As he “cried his eyes out recalling Sapphire’s last day,” Osthoff said to Patch.
“For ten years, the little girl never left my side. I had two periods where I genuinely considered killing myself, but the idea of leaving her behind without me kept me alive. I had the dog put to sleep because I was so in love with her that I took in her final breaths.”