New York Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin arrested over alleged campaign finance scheme

Politics

The legal turmoil has put Benjamin’s political future into question, and this year’s election has complicated for him and Gov.

New York Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin during a news conference in Albany on April 7, 2022. Cindy Schultz / The New York Times

New York Lieutenant Governor Brian A Benjamin, the government’s second-in-command, Kathy Hochul, surrendered Tuesday to face a federal indictment that charged him with bribery, fraud and forgery of records in connection with the funnel scheme. was alleged. Illegal donation to a previous campaign.

The five-count indictment accuses Benjamin of conspiring to direct state funds to a Harlem real estate investor in exchange for orchestrating thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to Benjamin’s failed 2021 campaign for New York City Comptroller.

Prosecutors alleged in the indictment, “In doing so, Benjamin abused his authority as a senator for the State of New York, engaging in a bribery scheme by using public funds for his own corrupt purposes.”

The investor was arrested in November on federal charges.

The indictment – the result of an investigation by the FBI, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the city’s Department of Investigation – also alleges that Benjamin “engaged in a series of lies and deceit to cover up the plan” last year, including Falsely falsifying donation forms for the campaign to become lieutenant governor, misleading New York City officials, and giving false information as part of a background check.

The legal turmoil has put Benjamin’s political future into question, and has complicated this year’s election for him and Hochul, who resigned last year after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by his predecessor Andrew Cuomo. After giving it was removed from the post.

There is no suggestion that Hochul was aware of Benjamin’s alleged criminal conduct, which prosecutors said when he was a state senator. Still, he took office last year promising to end an era of impropriety in Albany, and the selection of 45-year-old Benjamin as governor was one of his first major decisions.

Benjamin, James D. Gutta and William J. Harrington’s lawyers initially declined to comment, as did the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI. Spokesmen for Benjamin and Hochul also declined to comment immediately.

Benjamin will certainly be under pressure to resign. Even if he had to step down, he would remain on the ballot in June, when he faces two spirited primary picks. Because Benjamin was nominated as the Democratic Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, his name can only be removed at this point if he must move out of state, die, or seek another office.

Benjamin recently said he was cooperating with investigators, who issued summons in recent weeks The state senate in Albany and those who advised his controlling campaign. According to a person familiar with the matter, the lieutenant governor, along with his lawyers, met with prosecutors last week, and his top aides were privately reassuring aides that they expected to be free of any wrongdoing in the case.

But the Harlem real estate investor who illegally assisted his campaign, Gerald Migdoll, while not listed by name in the indictment, is identified as “CC-1,” short for co-conspirator 1. He began providing information to investigators he was arrested In November he was charged with wire fraud, identity theft and other crimes related to his role in the fundraising scheme, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

in that indictment, prosecutors said Migdol began running fraudulent contributions of thousands of dollars to Benjamin in October 2019, just a month after the state senator filed to run for comptroller. They accused him of donating straw in the names of individuals, including his 2-year-old grandson, who had not given his consent, and of reimbursement to others for the cost of their contributions.

At the time, prosecutors did not comment on Migdol’s motive, or explicitly name Benjamin. But he said his plan was designed to help the candidate fund New York City’s generous public campaign matching fund program and secure tens of thousands of dollars in additional campaign cash.

The two met close and business acclaim in a series of charitable and political work over the years in Harlem, where Migdoll made a name for himself through his charity distributing school supplies and Thanksgiving turkeys.

state records And a facebook photo Posted by Migdoll at the time Benjamin shows Friends of Public School Harlem, in September 2019, presenting him with a large cardboard check for $50,000 for charity. It is unclear whether the funds, which were earmarked as part of a discretionary state education fund, were ever actually disbursed, but they may be part of one of the largest outward gifts ever directed at small charities. used to represent.

A graduate of Ivy League schools, Benjamin spent most of his career in banking and affordable housing development before winning the state Senate seat representing most of Harlem in 2017.

In Albany, he was a leading proponent of criminal justice reform measures passed by Democrats after securing a majority in 2018. He finished fourth in the Democratic primary for controllers last year.

hochulu appointed Benjamin as its Lieutenant Governor In August, he was moved from that position to the governor’s mansion following Cuomo’s resignation. The decision was widely seen as a way for Hochul, a white liberal from Buffalo, to expand his appeal to non-white voters in New York City ahead of this year’s elections.

It is not clear how carefully Hochul or his advisers examined Benjamin prior to the appointment.

was already published report by city Showing at the time that Benjamin’s campaign had benefited from apparent straw donations, as well as ethical concerns about the use of campaign funds for a wedding ceremony and automobile expenses. (Benjamin later returned the dubious contribution and reached an agreement to cover the expenses of the campaign.)

The duties of the position of lieutenant governor vary by administration. Benjamin has kept a fast schedule of official events in the eight months since taking office, often presiding over the state Senate and representing Hochul at events in the New York City area. As Hochul’s experience made clear, the most important function of the Lieutenant Governor is to act when the Governor resigns or dies in office.

Benjamin faces two formidable primary opponents: Diana Reyna, a former New York City Councilwoman, and Ana Maria Archila, an activist supported by the left-leaning Working Families Party.

If either were to defeat him and Hochul still holds onto his race, the governor could find himself on the Democratic ticket with a relatively unfavorable running mate in this fall’s general election.

News of Benjamin’s arrest spread through Harlem’s political community on Tuesday, with many declaring their innocence. Benjamin, who rose to the post of chairman of the Central Harlem Community Board, was considered a rising star. When Hochul announced his appointment, he did so at 125th Street in Harlem.

“When it’s all over, it’ll be what I know: Brian did nothing to break the law,” said Hazel Ann Duke, president of the NAACP’s New York state chapter and one of Benjamin’s political leaders. Advisor.

This article is originally from . appeared in the new York Times,

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