New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned Tuesday after he was arrested on charges related to a campaign finance fraud investigation, officials said.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said Benjamin’s resignation was 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 in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them.”
Hours earlier, the Justice Department said Benjamin surrendered to authorities and appeared before a federal judge in New York City.
“After today’s charges, Brian will resign his duties as Lieutenant Governor and suspend his campaign. He will focus his energies on explaining in court why his actions were laudable — not criminal,” James D. Gatta and William J. Harrington, attorneys for Benjamin, said in a statement Tuesday evening.
“He looks forward to when this case is finished so he can rededicate himself to public service,” they said.
Benjamin’s arrest followed reports that Manhattan federal prosecutors and the FBI were investigating whether he knowingly engaged in a campaign finance fraud scheme. They were also looking into whether Benjamin, in exchange, helped distribute state money to contributors and their projects.
An indictment alleges that a Harlem real estate developer gave Benjamin campaign contributions; in exchange, Benjamin obtained a $50,000 state grant for the developer’s business, although the money was never delivered, the indictment says.
The developer is alleged to have provided Benjamin with two $10,000 personal checks in the names of relatives who did not share the developer’s last name. The indictment alleges that the developer did it to conceal any connections between him and the contributions.
The developer is also alleged to have given Benjamin a third check for $5,000 in the name of a limited liability company owned by the developer.
Benjamin denies wrongdoing.
“There has never been a federal case like this in America. Brian supported a $50,000 grant to Friends of Public School Harlem,” his attorneys said. “Every dollar was to buy supplies for public school students in Harlem. There was nothing inappropriate about this grant.”
Benjamin was charged with bribery, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to commit those offenses.
“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,” the U.S. attorney for Southern New York, Damian Williams, said in a statement. “By doing so, Benjamin abused his power and effectively used state funds to support his political campaigns.”
Williams said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that “public corruption erodes people’s confidence and faith in government” and that his office will always “uphold the rule of law.”
Jocelyn E. Strauber, the commissioner of the city’s Interior Department, said Benjamin betrayed the public trust when he used his position of power to serve his own interests.
The alleged scheme ran from about 2019 to 2021. Benjamin covered his tracks by falsifying campaign donor forms, misleading municipal regulators and “providing false information in vetting forms” he submitted, the indictment alleges.
Things began to unravel when Benjamin’s fundraiser, Gerald Migdol, was arrested in November, according to NBC New York. Migdol is charged with wire fraud in connection with an alleged campaign fraud scheme linked to past Benjamin fundraising.
Benjamin, whom Hochul appointed lieutenant governor last year, has not publicly addressed the allegations.
Asked previously about the investigation, his office referred to a Nov. 19 statement that was issued after Migdol was arrested.
“Neither Lieutenant Governor Benjamin nor his campaign are being accused of any wrongdoing and they are prepared to fully cooperate with authorities,” his office said at the time. “As soon as the campaign discovered that these contributions were improperly sourced, they donated them to the Campaign Finance Board, pursuant to guidance obtained from the CFB.”
Hochul’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment about Benjamin’s arrest.