New York Lt. Gov. Benjamin Arrested in Campaign Fraud Scheme
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin surrendered to authorities on Tuesday after being charged with bribery, fraud, conspiracy and falsification of records in a federal corruption investigation.
Benjamin was accused in the indictment of participating in a campaign finance scheme to receive contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for his influence to obtain $50,000 in state funds for a nonprofit organization controlled by the developer. The charges stem from Benjamin’s time as a state senator from Harlem prior to his current role as Gov. Kathy Hochul’s second-in-command.
Benjamin pleaded not guilty Tuesday during an appearance in a Manhattan federal court, according to the Associated Press. His bail was set at $250,000 and he was released the same day.
In the indictment, Benjamin was accused of engaging in a series of lies spanning 2019-2021 to conceal the scheme. Harlem-based real estate developer Gerald Migdol was indicted and arrested in November for orchestrating the scheme related to Benjamin’s campaign for New York City comptroller.
Benjamin, along with others indicted in the case, stands accused of falsifying campaign donor forms, lying to municipal regulators, honest services wire fraud and presenting false information in forms submitted as his appointment to lieutenant governor was pending, according to the indictment. Benjamin’s campaign had said at the time of Migdol’s arrest it forfeited any donations made in violation of the law.
“I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately,” Hochul said in a written statement. “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.”
During a press conference on Monday, Hochul said she was unaware of Benjamin’s subpoenas in the case when she chose him to be New York’s lieutenant governor. Despite his resignation, Benjamin will likely still appear on the 2022 gubernatorial Democratic primary ballot due to state elections law.
In a prepared statement shared with The Well News, Benjamin’s legal counsel said he would explain in court why his actions in the case were praiseworthy and not criminal in any way. Benjamin’s lawyers said he looks forward to rededicating himself to public service once his name is cleared.
“There has never been a federal case like this in America,” Benjamin’s attorneys James Gatta and William Harrington told The Well News. “Brian supported a $50,000 grant to Friends of Public School Harlem. Every dollar was to buy supplies for public school students in Harlem. There was nothing inappropriate about this grant.”
Republican state lawmakers, however, were quick to denounce Hochul and Benjamin when news of the arrest broke. New York Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy said in a written statement Hochul’s decision to appoint Benjamin to the office was “proof that her tolerance for corruption runs deep in her veins.”
“In her first major decision as governor, Kathy Hochul chose a dirty politician to serve as her partner in government and running mate,” Langworthy said in the statement. “Brian Benjamin’s shady dealings and corruption were well-documented, but Hochul turned a blind eye and put him a heartbeat away from the governorship.”
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