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New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned on Tuesday just hours after prosecutors alleged he was involved in a brazen scheme to funnel donations to a previous political campaign—and then tried to cover it up.
Benjamin, 45, was arrested on several charges, including bribery, in connection with his alleged participation in a scheme to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for securing a state grant. The indictment, obtained by The Daily Beast, alleges that Benjamin conspired to direct a $50,000 grant of state funds to a Harlem real-estate investor in exchange for thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to his unsuccessful 2021 New York City comptroller campaign.
In a Tuesday statement, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Benjamin would be stepping down from the post he has held for seven months “effective immediately.”
“While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as lieutenant governor,” Hochul added in the statement. “New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them.”
Following news of his resignation, Benjamin's attorneys also released a statement on Tuesday, stating that their client is now focusing on “explaining in court why his actions were laudable, not criminal.”
In a Tuesday press conference announcing the indictment, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams called Benjamin’s actions a “simple story of corruption” involving “a quid pro quo” to gain campaign funds. The lieutenant governor was expected to appear in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday afternoon.
“In so doing, Benjamin abused his authority as a New York State senator, engaging in a bribery scheme using public funds for his own corrupt purposes,” the 23-page indictment unsealed Tuesday states. “Brian Benjamin… and others acting in 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 Benjamin submitted while under considering to be appointed the next Lieutenant Governor of New York State.”
The Tuesday arrest comes just after Hochel appointed Benjamin as her second-in-command in September—and throws the political aspirations of the duo into limbo ahead of this year’s election. It also comes after reports that federal prosecutors and the FBI were investigating whether Benjamin engaged in a campaign-fraud scheme.
New York FBI Director Michael Driscoll noted Tuesday that the probe into Benjamin “remains very much an ongoing investigation.”
The indictment, however, alleges that Benjamin was involved with the Harlem real-estate investor as early as 2017, when he was a state senator. In 2019, when Benjamin began planning a campaign for New York City comptroller, he allegedly began his scheme with the investor, according to the documents.
Prosecutors allege that in one March 2019 meeting, the investor said he did not “have experience bundling political contributions” in the manner Benjamin wanted and that he intended to “further solicit contributions” for his organization.
“Let me see what I can do,” Benjamin allegedly responded, according to the indictment.
That opportunity to help the investor came one month later, when the state senate’s majority leader informed Benjamin and his colleagues that they had been awarded “additional discretionary funding that each could allocate to organizations in their districts for specified purposes.”
“That additional funding included, among other things, up to $50,000 that Benjamin could allocate to school districts, libraries, or nonprofit organizations for educational purposes,” the indictment states.
Instead, prosecutors allege, Benjamin funneled the money to the Harlem real-estate investor and his organization. The day after the funds were approved in June 2019, Benjamin allegedly texted the investor a screenshot of the resolution that reflected the payment with the message: “Do you recognize the 3rd entity on the list.”
“We passed the resolution yesterday! $50k,” Benjamin allegedly wrote. “I will call to discuss!”
The grant resulted in multiple illegal campaign contributions to his unsuccessful campaign—including three checks totaling $25,000. The indictment also notes Benjamin took steps to cover up the scheme afterward. The indictment states that those steps included faking campaign donor forms, refusing to answer questions from regulators, and even falsifying information on forms he submitted in August 2021 to be considered for his current role.
The indictment states that in the executive appointment questionnaire, Benjamin stated he never “directly exercised [his] governmental authority (either as a legislator or executive official) concerning a matter of a donor [he] directly solicited.”