Embattled Rep. George Santos took an almost certainly illegal donation from an Italian national and confessed smuggler of undocumented immigrants—who also happens to be the blood relative of some of his closest local supporters and campaign vendors.
The gift from Rocco Oppedisano—expelled from the U.S. in January 2019, and who was subsequently intercepted piloting a yacht packed with unauthorized migrants and $200,000 in cash toward Florida—was just one facet of the support the freshman Republican and immigration hardliner received from the Queens-based clan that controls upscale eatery Il Bacco. Santos has been unabashed about his affection for the restaurant and his affinity for its owners, Rocco Oppedisano’s brother Joseph and niece Tina.
As a truth-challenged candidate, Santos appointed the father-daughter pair, plus her fiancé, to his “Small Businesses for Santos Coalition,” and made Tina its chair. The campaign, already known for its suspect money maneuvers, also spent $25,443.64 at Il Bacco since the Republican launched his first run for his Long Island-Queens seat in 2020, according to federal campaign finance records. The campaign further reported owing Il Bacco $18,773.54 for its election night party in November.
Especially striking to legal experts is that more than half a dozen of those expenses, marked “Food and Beverage” in the filing, came in at exactly $199.99—one penny short of the threshold that would have required the campaign to retain receipts of the transaction.
"You can’t structure transfers of money in a way to intentionally get around the law,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the good government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “If someone was trying to structure and kind of lazy about it… this is kind of what it would look like.”
But even more disturbing to him was the Sept. 22, 2022, gift from Rocco Oppedisano, who court and property records show was stripped of his permanent resident status following a firearms and drug bust at homes belonging to Joseph Oppedisano in 2009.
“There are some things on which there is no gray area on with the FEC, and one of them is donations from foreign nationals,” said Libowitz, noting such a gift is flatly forbidden.
Repeated attempts to reach Rocco Oppedisano by phone and email, and through his most recent attorney, went unanswered. Legal filings show he was expelled from the United States after almost a decade of court battles in January 2019.
In December of that same year, a Coast Guard ship caught him steering a yacht called the INXS FINALLY from Nassau in the Bahamas toward Golden Beach, Florida. In his plea deal, Rocco Oppedisano admitted that when officers boarded the 63-foot pleasure vessel, he refused to let them in the boat’s staterooms.
Officials brought the yacht to Haulover Inlet, where Customs and Border Patrol agents gained entry and discovered 14 undocumented Chinese migrants and a Bahamian national aboard—plus more than $200,000 in currency stuffed into the bedroom walls.
The feds charged Oppedisano not just with smuggling undocumented immigrants into the country, but with illegally seeking to re-enter himself, though he pleaded only to the first allegation as part of the deal.
Almost exactly midway between Rocco Oppedisano’s expulsion from the country in January and his re-arrest in December, Tina Oppedisano posted a photo tagged in Nassau to her Instagram account. It shows her on the deck of a boat with Rocco Oppedisano.
“This is Uncle Rocky,” she wrote in the caption.
Another of her uncles, Pietro “Peter” Oppedisano, who registered an entity for the INXS FINALLY in Florida barely a year-and-a-half before the Coast Guard stopped it, co-signed for his brother’s half-million-dollar bond. In a brief conversation with The Daily Beast, Peter Oppedisano said that nothing had changed about his brother’s immigration status since the 2020 court case, though he refused to discuss the topic further.
“It’s in the past,” he said, before terminating the call.
The bond Peter Oppedisano signed obligated Rocco Oppedisano to stay at Tina and Joseph’s gated waterfront mansion in Beechhurst, Queens. Records show it was from this location that he finally settled the federal lien dating to his prior conviction for the weapons and substances bust that led to his deportation.
The donation he made to Santos’ campaign last fall, more than two years after his guilty plea, places him at another home belonging to Joseph Oppedisano in neighboring Whitestone, Queens—one of the same locations where a federal agent recovered bullets and shotgun shells back in 2009, verboten for Rocco Oppedisano, who had been previously found guilty of felony reckless endangerment.
In a phone interview, Joseph Oppedisano acknowledged that he owned both that property and the apartment where investigators had found pills, cocaine, and more ammunition. He also conceded that he had introduced Rocco Oppedisano to Santos, but insisted he could not recall whether he had encouraged his brother to make the $500 contribution to the candidate’s campaign—even though FEC records show he and yet another of his brothers had donated the exact same date, only days after the establishment of the “Small Businesses for Santos Coalition.”
He also pleaded ignorance of the numerous $199.99 campaign transactions at Il Bacco, insisting that he has had little role in the restaurant’s day-to-day activities since sustaining injuries in a 2020 plane crash.
“I go there, I sit at the bar, I can’t do much, because I can’t walk,” he said.
Tina Oppedisano, who bills herself as the establishment’s manager, did not respond to calls or texts. Her social media reflects a close relationship with Santos dating back to at least 2020, with Instagram posts touting her leadership of the Small Businesses for Santos group and calling him her “dear friend.”
Santos, for his part, did not reply to texts or calls either. Rocco Oppedisano’s immigration issues and offenses appear at odds with Santos’ hardline rhetoric around immigration, and complaints about “our literally wide open border” and the “deadly consequences” of illegal entry to the country.
Political committees connected to Santos have poured thousands of additional dollars into Il Bacco. New York State campaign finance records show that Rise NY PAC—a fund run by Santos’ campaign treasurer and his sister—spent $4,473.07 there on meals and fundraising expenses. The restaurant got another $2,405.31 from the account of a failed state senate candidate who retained Redstone Strategies, a firm that counts Santos’ Devolder Organization among its two co-founders.