New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin surrendered to federal officials to face a bribery conspiracy indictment, The New York Times reported. He is alleged to be part of a plot to move funds to a real estate investor in Harlem to illegally obtain campaign contributions for his failed 2021 run for New York City comptroller, according to documents obtained by the Times.
According to law enforcement officials, he is being charged with bribery and honest services, wire fraud conspiracy, and two counts of falsification of records.
"As alleged, Brian Benjamin used his power as a New York state senator to secure a state-funded grant in exchange for contributions to his own political campaigns," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in a statement. "By doing so, Benjamin abused his power and effectively used state funds to support his political campaigns. My Office and our partners at the FBI and DOI will continue to ensure that politicians who put themselves over the public interest will be prosecuted.”
Benjamin, 45, is second-in-command of the New York state government behind Gov. Kathy Hochul and the second African American to hold the position. Hochul was catapulted into office last year after a sexual harassment scandal led to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo's resignation. One of her first decisions in office was to select Benjamin to fill the seat she had occupied.
Prosecutors said that the alleged scheme occurred while Benjamin was a state senator representing Harlem. Hochul has said that she was unaware of any wrongdoing.
"I have utmost confidence in my lieutenant governor," Hochul told reporters at a Thursday (Apr. 11) press conference. "This is an independent investigation related to other people and he's fully cooperating. He is my running mate."
The real estate developer who allegedly was caught up in the plot, Gerald Migdol, was accused in a grand jury indictment in November by prosecutors of trying to move thousands of dollars of contributions beginning in Oct. 2019, just after Benjamin filed to run for city comptroller. They said that he made dubious donations in the names of people – including his toddler grandchild – who had not consented to them and that he reimbursed others for contributing.
Migdol, according to the Times, started to give law enforcement officials information shortly after he was arrested on charges of wire fraud, identity theft, and other felonies linked to the allegations.
Williams office alleges that Benjamin attempted to use his office as lieutenant governor to conceal the scheme, including sending misleading information to the New York City Campaign Finance Board about the contributions from Migdol.
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Authorities had already questioned Benjamin in an investigation over his possible involvement in the plot. He said he was cooperating with federal officials who issued subpoenas several weeks ago.
Benjamin will likely face pressure to resign his position, which would leave Hochul searching for a new running mate in the 2022 gubernatorial election. Her office has not made any statement since Benjamin’s arrest.