Albany, NY – Now-former New York Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin resigned on Tuesday just hours after he surrendered to federal authorities on bribery charges connected to a campaign finance scheme.
Benjamin, who became New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s pick for lieutenant governor last summer when she replaced disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo, is accused of having participated in a scheme to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for securing a state grant, according to CNN.
Hochul said on April 12 that she “accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately.”
“While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as Lieutenant Governor,” she said. “New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them.”
An indictment unsealed on April 12 showed that during the time that Benjamin was a state senator, from about 2019 to 2021, he participated in a scheme to get campaign contributions from a Harlem real estate developer in exchange for a $50,000 state grant for the developer’s non-profit, CNN reported.
“In doing so, Benjamin abused his authority as a New York State senator, engaging in a bribery scheme using public funds for his own corrupt purposes,” according to the indictment.
Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that although the grant was never delivered, it “will not be a legal impediment to this indictment,” CNN reported.
“We allege that Benjamin struck a corrupt bargain with a real estate developer,” Williams said, according to the New York Post.
“Benjamin allegedly directed a $50,000 state grant to a nonprofit organization controlled by [the developer] and, in exchange, Benjamin received tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions,” the prosecutor continued.
“Those contributions were directed both to Benjamin’s state senate campaign committee, and to Benjamin’s New York City comptroller campaign,” Williams explained. “Taxpayer money for campaign contributions – quid pro quo, this for that — that’s bribery, plain and simple.”
According to the indictment, other people allegedly acted on Benjamin’s behalf or at his direction to engage “in a series of lies and deceptions to cover up his scheme” by falsifying campaign donor forms and misleading municipal regulators, CNN reported.
The now-former lieutenant governor also stands accused of lying on vetting forms he was asked to complete when Hochul was making her selection for a second.
The indictment alleged that the real estate developer made fraudulent contributions to Benjamin’s unsuccessful New York City comptroller campaign by making donations in other people’s names or by reimbursing the people who had made the contributions, CNN reported.
Prosecutors said Benjamin personally met with the developer in person more than once to receive collect a “bundle” of contributions.
Benjamin also allegedly told the developer that he’d help get community board approval for a zoning variance permit for a property owned by a real estate mogul in exchange for a contribution to a political action committee, according to the indictment.
The now-former lieutenant governor was indicted on five felony charges that included bribery and honest services wire fraud conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud, and two counts of falsification of records, CNN reported.
Benjamin was a vocal advocate of defunding the police while he was a New York state senator.
— Defiant L’s (@DefiantLs) April 12, 2022
A source close to the governor said there had been a number of red flags that popped up in Benjamin’s vetting forms, the New York Post reported.
There was discussion about getting answers to the questions and having the state police conduct a second background check on the candidate, but that ultimately fizzled out without anyone taking action.
Hochul’s chief of staff, Jeff Lewis, and Jeffrey Pearlman, a special counsel to the governor, both gave the governor the green light to appoint Benjamin, the New York Post reported.