George Santos, the disgraced former congressman trying to parlay his notoriety into a cottage industry, is now participating in a documentary film project on his colorful lies, life and times.
The film is being led by Jenner Furst, a successful documentarian whose projects include a Peabody-award winning documentary about Kalief Browder, a young Bronx man whose suicide after an extended detention on Rikers Island became a symbol of the breakdown in criminal justice in New York.
Mr. Furst is also known for a documentary genre that he refers to as true comedy, and it is those stories — among them the Amazon docuseries “LuLaRich,” about a leggings-hocking pyramid scheme, and “Fyre Fraud,” which went behind the scenes of a high-end music festival that wasn’t — that have earned him a peculiar distinction.
“I’m a scammer whisperer,” said Mr. Furst with a laugh.
Of the two films, “Fyre Fraud,” which hit Hulu in 2019, was an especially big hit. One of two competing projects on the subject, it was the only one to interview the story’s ostensible villain, Billy McFarland, who had pleaded guilty to wire fraud and agreed to forfeit $26 million.
But the project drew criticism after it was revealed that Mr. Furst had compensated Mr. McFarland to license materials used in the film.
Mr. Santos will likewise see some financial compensation for his participation, in the form of an archival materials fee. Mr. Furst asserted that the arrangement was common in the industry, which has exploded in recent years after streaming giants like Hulu and Netflix began investing heavily in documentaries. He said the payment — the amount of which he declined to disclose — would cover photographs, videos, and “a lot of personal stuff that people have never seen.”
Mr. Furst is aware that many find it distasteful that Mr. Santos is profiting off his notoriety.
But he rejects this view, explaining that his work helps in the long run ensure that justice is served: “The only way that people can get their money back is somehow for there to be money created, to put money in their hands,” Mr. Furst said.
Filming is already underway for the documentary, which Mr. Furst says will include interviews with a number of people in Mr. Santos’s inner circle.
The ex-congressman still faces 23 felony counts including wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft. Prosecutors say he defrauded campaign donors and the federal government across a range of criminal schemes.
Mr. Furst insisted that no topic is off the table, from the pettiest accusation to the most serious charge.
But the filmmaker hopes the project will bring some humanity to the story of Mr. Santos, whose sins, he said, pale in comparison to those corporate, governmental and social systems that shape our culture.
“I really focus more on the human side of the story,” Mr. Furst said, saying he would aim to understand Mr. Santos’s childhood, insecurities, heartbreaks and betrayals.
Asked whether he believes that Mr. Santos’s misdeeds, both accused and admitted, ought to disqualify him from holding office, Mr. Furst called it “a silly question.”
“There is the illusion that there’s good people and bad people,” he said in an interview. “Ultimately, there still is truth. And I am committed to truth. And somehow, as someone committed to truth in a post-truth era, I don’t think I can be as religiously attached to the existence of truth anymore.”
Indeed, Mr. Furst said, he is not concerned by the possibility that Mr. Santos might be less than truthful with him. “He could sit and tell me lies the entire time. Ultimately, based on my ability to bear out the truth around him, that … that becomes pure entertainment.”
This is hardly the first time that Mr. Santos has been able to profit off his escapades: Earlier this month, he set himself up on the platform Cameo which allows users to pay celebrities for short personalized video messages. In his first week, Mr. Santos earned more than $174,000, the company confirmed — the equivalent of a year of his earnings as a member of Congress.
Since then, Mr. Santos, who has raised his rates to $500 per video, has rarely allowed opportunity go to waste, even introducing a limited Christmas edition “Santos-Claus” series of Cameos which he said would help “make Christmas great again!
Mr. Santos has pleaded not guilty to the charges he faces.
But in a court appearance last week, Mr. Santos’s lawyer, Joseph Murray, told a judge that he’d been engaging in negotiations with prosecutors about paths to conclude the case without going to trial, which might or might not include restitution payments.
Mr. Santos is due next in court on Jan. 23.