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New York LG Brian Benjamin arrested in fundraising scheme, Gov. Hochul accepts his resignation

Brian Benjamin Swearing-in
Darren McGee/Darren McGee- Office of the Governor
/
Governor's Flickr page
September 09, 2021: Swearing-in of Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin (Darren McGee- Office of the Governor)

New York Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin has resigned. The Democrat was arraigned in federal district court Tuesday on bribery and conspiracy charges in connection with an alleged scheme involving phony campaign donations when he unsuccessfully ran for New York City Comptroller.

In a statement, Governor Kathy Hochul says she has accepted Benjamin’s resignation “effective immediately."

“While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as lieutenant governor,” Hochul said. "New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them."

The United States Attorney for New York’s Southern District, Damian Williams, issued the five-count indictment on charges of bribery, theft of honest services, and falsification of records in connection with a scheme to illegally receive tens of thousands of dollars in public matching funds for Benjamin’s 2021 campaign for New York City Comptroller.

“This is a simple story of corruption,” Williams said.

Benjamin is accused of conspiring with a Harlem real estate investor and former close associate, Gerry Migdol, to falsely “procure numerous small donations” of $250 or less. According to the indictment, the phony donations were allegedly used to inflate Benjamin’s campaign account and illegally gain tens of thousands of dollars from the City’s public eight-to-one matching fund for candidates for office. Migdol was arrested last November.

Migdol and Benjamin are also accused of conspiring to falsely attribute three separate campaign donations totaling $25,000 to two of Migdol's relatives, and to a limited liability corporation associated with the real estate investor.

Benjamin, who was a state senator at the time, is also accused of rewarding Migdol for the phony donations by steering an unusually large $50,000 state grant to a charitable association associated with Migdol, Friends of Public School Harlem. The grant, though, has not yet been disbursed, according to the indictment.

“Taxpayer money for campaign contributions, quid pro quo,” said Williams, explaining that the Latin phrase translates to “this for that.”

“That’s bribery, plain and simple,” Williams said.

Benjamin is also accused of engaging in a “series of lies and deceptions to cover up his scheme," including providing false information when he was vetted to be lieutenant governor last August.

Benjamin last Friday defended his behavior during the vetting process, conducted by the state police, though he admitted he failed to tell investigators or the governor that he had received a subpoena in connection with the federal probe.

“The State Police did a thorough investigation, I participated in that,” said Benjamin. “The State Police gave a recommendation to the governor. That was process. And that’s typically the process for appointments. So I followed the process as it was supposed to be followed.”

Governor Hochul as recently as last Friday said she supported Benjamin as her running mate and did not think he did anything wrong.

“I have utmost confidence in my lieutenant governor,” Hochul said. “This is an independent investigation related to other people, and he is cooperating. He is my running mate.”

Benjamin did not comment at his arraignment Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges. Bail was set at $250,000, and his travel is restricted, including being barred from traveling to the state capitol in Albany. The indictment comes just eight months after the state’s former governor, Andrew Cuomo, resigned over multiple scandals.

Benjamin's name, though, will remain on the ballot as Hochul’s running mate. He was voted the Democratic Party’s designee at the convention in February, and cannot be removed from the ballot unless he leaves the state, runs for another office, or dies.

Benjamin faces two primary challengers. Diana Reyna, a former New York City Council member, is the running mate of Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi. Ana Maria Archila is seeking the post, alongside New York City Public Advocate and gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams.

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