Former New York State Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned this Tuesday, April 12, shortly after being arrested and indicted for bribery and related offenses while he was state senator in Harlem.
Benjamin surrendered to law enforcement and was presented before a judge on Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in lower Manhattan. Within hours of pleading not guilty and leaving the federal court house, Benjamin tendered his resignation as lieutenant governor to Gov. Kathy Hochul. Hochul became governor when former governor Andrew Cuomo had to resign amid sexuall harassment scandals. The current allegations against Benjamin will no doubt hurt her bid for reelection this year.
“I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately,” said Hochul in a 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.”
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams presented the facts of the case so far in a conference. “This is a simple story of corruption,” said Williams.
Benjamin was the New York state senator for District 30, which covers Harlem, East Harlem, and the Upper West Side in Manhattan, in 2017. He served as ranking member of the Senate Committee on Civil Service and Pensions, the chair of the Budget and Revenue committee, and as senior assistant majority leader while in office. In 2019, he began to plan his campaign for city comptroller and re-election for state senate.
Williams alleged that Benjamin struck a corrupt bargain with a real estate developer, anonymously referred to as CC1, directing a $50,000 state grant to a non profit organization controlled by CC1 in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money. That money illegally went towards Benjamin’s run for re-election campaign as senator and his failed bid for city comptroller, said Williams.
To clarify, said FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll in the New York Field Office, accepting numerous small donations on its own is not illegal but Benjamin used his official authority as senator to allocate state funds as part of a bribe.
Benjamin then allegedly “repeatedly lied to cover up the bribery scheme, including by falsifying campaign forms and deceiving city regulators” and “repeatedly lied on the vetting forms that he filled out before he was appointed lieutenant governor,” said Williams.
THE CITY article, which broke the news about Benjamin’s suspicious campaign contributions in January 2021, was not the basis for opening the investigation but is cited in the indictment, said Williams.
THE CITY reported that Benjamin’s comptroller campaign listed money orders from Harlem philanthropist Gerald Migdol, Midgol’s 2-year-old grandson, and others who did not actually give money in an effort “to extract public dollars from New York City’s campaign finance matching funds program.”
THE CITY also reported that Benjamin acknowledged he hadn’t told Hochul or her office that he had been subpoenaed months prior to his appointment as lieutenant governor.
New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) Executive Director Amy Loprest later said in a statement that the CFB, which is an agency that gives out public funding to run for office in the city, audited “potentially fraudulent contributions” to Benjamin’s comptroller campaign before issuing any public funds payments back in February 2020.
“Those contributions were not matched with public funds, nor did they factor into the campaign qualifying for public funds payments,” said Loprest. “We have been working closely with the Southern District of New York office in this matter.”
Loprest added that in order to protect the matching funds program and taxpayer dollars, there are rigorous audits, including post-election audits for all campaigns.
“The 2021 post-election audits are underway. As our audit process proceeds, we will continue to monitor developments in this case,” said Loprest.
Williams said he could not speak about anyone else that may or may not have been involved in the bribe from the State Senate Harlem office or in regard to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ knowledge of the instance.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w