New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned Tuesday, just hours after being indicted on bribery and fraud charges tied to an illegal campaign finance scheme.
“I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately,” Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in a statement late Tuesday afternoon. “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.”
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned last year after several women accused him of sexual misconduct, the sitting lieutenant governor, Hochul, was elevated to replace him. She then appointed Benjamin as her lieutenant governor. Hochul had expressed her support for Benjamin last week.
The former state senator turned himself in Tuesday morning and was charged with five counts in connection with his failed bid for New York City comptroller last year. Benjamin is accused of working with a real estate developer 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.
The developer, Gerald Migdol, was arrested in November and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft relating to 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.
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.
“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 Tuesday. “As we allege today, Benjamin’s conduct in this scheme directly circumvents those procedures put in place to keep our systems fair.”
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 from last summer, before he became lieutenant governor. The 23-page indictment 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 position.
“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.”
Benjamin, who will likely remain on the ballot due to state election law, was already facing competition in the June primary from former New York City Councilwoman Diana Reyna and progressive activist Ana Maria Archila. Hochul, who is seeking reelection, is facing multiple Democratic challengers, including Rep. Tom Suozzi and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
“Today’s bombshell is an indictment on Kathy Hochul’s lack of experience and poor judgment,” said Suozzi and Reyna, who are running together, in a joint statement, adding that Hochul had “fostered a culture of continued corruption with months of fundraising from pay-to-play insiders and people doing business with the state, and secretive budget deals that resulted in the billion-dollar Bills stadium and little else.”
“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!”