NY Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigns after his arrest over allegations of bribery and fraud
Update, 5:15 p.m.:
New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin has resigned after being arraigned Tuesday in federal district court on bribery and conspiracy charges in connection with an alleged scheme involving phony campaign donations, when Benjamin ran for New York City comptroller.
In a statement, Gov. Kathy Hochul said 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."
Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District, 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 unsuccessful campaign for the comptroller position.
“This is a simple story of corruption,” Williams said.
Benjamin is accused of conspiring with Gerry Migdol, a Harlem real estate investor and former close associate, to falsely “procure numerous small donations” of $250 or less during Benjamin’s 2021 campaign.
According to the indictment, the phony donations were allegedly used to inflate Benjamin’s campaign account and illegally gain access to money from the eight-to-one public matching fund for candidates.
Migdol was arrested last November.
Migdol and Benjamin are also accused of conspiring to falsely attribute three separate larger campaign donations totaling $25,000 to two of Migdol’s relatives and to a limited liability corporation associated with Migdol.
According to the indictment, Benjamin, who was a state senator at the time, then rewarded Migdol for the phony donations by steering an unusually large $50,000 state grant to a charitable association associated with Migdol, called the Friends of Public School Harlem. The grant, though, has not yet been disbursed.
“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 charged with engaging in a “series of lies and deceptions to cover up his scheme,” including providing false information to the State Police when he was vetted to be lieutenant governor last August.
Benjamin did not comment at his arraignment, where he pleaded not guilty. 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.
Despite Benjamin's resignation, his name 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, and his legal troubles could enhance their chances of winning in June. Diana Reyna, a former New York City Council member, is the running mate of Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi. Ana Maria Archila is seeking the post alongside New York City Public Advocate and gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams.
In a statement, Suozzi called the arrest an “indictment on Kathy Hochul's lack of experience and poor judgment” and accused her of fostering a “culture of continued corruption.”
The Working Families Party, which endorsed Williams and Archila, condemned Hochul and Benjamin and put in a plug for their candidates, who are also running as Democrats in the June 28 primary.
“When voters show up to the polls in June, they will have to make a decision whether they want to preserve a long-standing culture of corruption or chart a new path forward with leaders who want to do right by our communities,” Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York Working Families Party, said in a statement.
The Republican designee for governor, Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin said Hochul should never have chosen Benjamin in the first place and she should move swiftly to end her association with him.
Republicans in the New York State Legislature, where they are the minority party, also condemned Benjamin’s arrest.
Senate GOP Leader Robert Ortt, in a statement, called it “another stain on New York State Government” and said it “calls into question Hochul’s judgment” for choosing Benjamin in the first place.
Republican State Party Chair Nick Langworthy said Hochul turned a “blind eye” to reports of Benjamin’s past shady dealings and chose a “dirty politician” to serve as her governing partner and running mate.
This story includes reporting by the Associated Press.