New York lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin has resigned from office following his arrest for federal charges related to campaign-finance fraud in connection with a previous campaign. Benjamin, the second-in-command to Governor Kathy Hochul, surrendered to authorities on Tuesday morning to face charges that he conspired with a Harlem real-estate investor to commit bribery when he was a state senator running for New York City comptroller, according to the New York Times.
Hochul announced Benjamin’s resignation in a statement late Tuesday.
“I have accepted Brian 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. New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them,” Hochul said.
Benjamin has been indicted on five counts, including bribery, honest-services wire fraud, and falsification of records. He appeared in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty and was released on $250,000 bond.
The lieutenant governor is accused of participating in a scheme to direct $50,000 in state funds to Harlem real-estate investor Gerald Migdol in exchange for Migdol’s funneling thousands of dollars of fraudulent contributions to the then–state senator’s unsuccessful 2021 campaign for city comptroller.
Migdol was arrested on federal charges related to the scheme, including wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, in November. The Times reports that Migdol began providing information to investigators following his arrest, and his indictment sheds more light on the alleged scheme:
In that indictment, prosecutors said that Mr. Migdol began to steer thousands of dollars worth of fraudulent contributions to Mr. Benjamin in October 2019, just a month after the state senator filed to run for comptroller. They accused him of making straw donations in the name of individuals, including his 2-year-old grandchild, who did not consent to them, and of reimbursing others for the cost of their contributions.
At the time, the prosecutors did not comment on Mr. Migdol’s motive, or explicitly name Mr. Benjamin. But they said his scheme was designed to help the candidate tap into New York City’s generous public campaign matching funds program and secure him tens of thousands of dollars in additional campaign cash.
During an afternoon press conference, Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, called it “a simple story of corruption,” describing how Benjamin allegedly directed a state grant toward the developer and received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to his State Senate and comptroller campaign committees.
“Taxpayer money for campaign contributions, quid quo pro, this for that: That’s bribery, plain and simple,” Williams said.
Officials also allege that Benjamin falsified campaign-donor forms, misled regulators, and lied during the vetting process before being named lieutenant governor.
It was reported last month that Benjamin was under investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. A spokesperson for Benjamin said at the time that he was fully cooperating with authorities.
The indictment against Benjamin says he also “engaged in a series of lies and deceptions to cover up his scheme, including by falsifying campaign donor forms, misleading municipal regulators, and providing false information in vetting forms Benjamin submitted while under … consideration to be appointed the next Lieutenant Governor of New York state.”
There is no indication that Governor Hochul, who selected Benjamin to be her lieutenant governor in August, knew about the alleged scheme. Both she and Benjamin are seeking reelection and face Democratic primaries in June. Though there will certainly be calls for Benjamin to resign and drop out of the race, the Times notes it’s likely too late to remove his name from the ballot.
Though Hochul has not been accused of any wrongdoing, Benjamin’s indictment will complicate her reelection campaign, as she promised to clean up state government when she succeeded Andrew Cuomo, who resigned amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.
This piece will be updated as the story develops.