New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin arrested in campaign finance scheme

New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin arrested in campaign finance scheme
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New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin was arrested Tuesday morning after surrendering to the police on federal bribery charges.

The five charges revolve around Benjamin’s failed bid for New York City comptroller last year. He is accused of working with a real estate investor in order to arrange for thousands of dollars in illegal campaign donations for which, in exchange, Benjamin is alleged to have directed state funds to the investor. Then a state senator, Benjamin finished fourth in the Democratic primary for comptroller.

According to the indictment, he is facing counts of bribery, honest services wire fraud and falsification of records. Last month, the New York Times reported that Benjamin was the focus of a federal probe.

The developer, Gerald Migdol, was arrested in November and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, in connection with a scheme to misrepresent and conceal the sources of political campaign contributions. Justice Department officials noted that another individual involved was a candidate in the New York City comptroller race, but did not name Benjamin at the time.

Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin at the microphone, with a teleprompter in front of him.
Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin addresses the New York State Democratic Convention on Feb. 17. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

“Exploiting one’s official authority by allocating state funds as part of a bribe to procure donations to a political campaign, and engaging in activity to cover up the bribe, is illegal," Michael J. Driscoll, the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the New York Field Office, said in a statement. "As we allege today, Benjamin’s conduct in this scheme directly circumvents those procedures put in place to keep our systems fair.”

Benjamin worked in banking and real estate before winning a state Senate seat in 2017 representing a large portion of Harlem. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned last year after several women accused him of sexual misconduct, the sitting lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, was elevated to replace him, and she appointed Benjamin as her lieutenant governor.

Earlier this month, the New York Daily News reported that a subpoena had been issued to Benjamin and members of his campaign staff to release fundraising records last summer, before he became lieutenant governor. The 23-page indictment released Tuesday accuses Benjamin and others “acting at his direction or on his behalf, 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” that were submitted when he was under consideration for the appointment.

Benjamin told Politico last week that he had not told Hochul about the subpoena before she chose him for the role.

“The state police did a thorough investigation. I participated in that,” Benjamin said last week about the vetting process at a press conference on the state budget. “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.”

Hochul expressed support for Benjamin at the same event.

Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin listens to Gov. Kathy Hochul speak at the podium, with officials wearing masks behind them.speaks during ceremonies in the governor's office, in New York, Sept. 17, 2021. (Richard Drew/AP Photo)
Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York, accompanied by Benjamin, on Sept. 17, 2021. (Richard Drew/AP Photo)

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

In the state Senate, Benjamin focused on criminal justice reform and affordable housing while serving as the chair of the Revenue and Budget Committee. Even if he were to resign, it’s likely he would remain on the June primary ballot, where he faces competition from former New York City Councilwoman Diana Reyna and progressive activist Ana Maria Archila. Hochul is facing multiple Democratic challengers herself, including Rep. Tom Suozzi and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

"Our elected officials should be held to the highest ethical standard to preserve the public trust, and Brian Benjamin has violated that compact,” Archila said in a statement following the arrest. “Albany has been plagued by corruption for too long, with politicians trading favors for the money of the wealthy and powerful. This must stop now."

Lee Zeldin, the likely Republican nominee for governor, issued a statement calling Benjamin a “bad pick” who was “forced” upon the state by Hochul.

“She owns this ... all of it!” Zeldin concluded. “Terrible judgment!"