ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned Tuesday evening after he was arrested earlier in the day and charged in a federal bribery conspiracy case involving alleged fraudulent donations to a New York City comptroller run last year.
Benjamin pleaded not guilty at a brief arraignment in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona Wang and was released on a $250,000 bond. Shortly after 5 p.m., Gov. Kathy Hochul said he had resigned amid growing calls that he step down from Democrats and Republicans.
“I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately,” she said in a statement. “While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as lieutenant governor. New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them.”
The resignation, though, doesn’t rid Hochul of her hand-picked second in command. Benjamin is still on the June 28 primary ballot and, as of now, both are seeking full four-year terms after stepping into their roles last year following the resignation of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Democrats run separately in the June primaries, but would run as a team in November if they make it to the general election. And there are few options to get him off the ballot at this point.
Benjamin, 45, is accused of conspiring to direct $50,000 of state funds to a Harlem real estate investor in order to get the developer to ship illegal campaign contributions to Benjamin’s unsuccessful 2021 comptroller campaign. The Times reported the indictment is the result of a federal investigation that has gone on for more than a year when Benjamin was a state senator from Harlem.
“Benjamin abused his authority as a New York State senator, engaging in a bribery scheme using public funds for his own corrupt purposes,” the indictment reads.
The developer, Gerald Migdol, was indicted in November on charges of making straw donations to Benjamin’s city comptroller campaign, and the Daily News earlier this month said Benjamin had been subpoenaed by Manhattan prosecutors in relation to Migdol before his selection as lieutenant governor.
The indictment also contends that Benjamin “engaged in a series of lies and deceptions to cover up his scheme” that included falsifying campaign donor forms and providing “false information in vetting forms” he submitted “while under consideration to be appointed the next lieutenant governor of New York State.”
The alleged scheme, the indictment states, goes back to 2019 when Benjamin was able to secure the $50,000 grant through the state budget, leading to Migdol’s efforts to provide fraudulent campaign funds to Benjamin’s comptroller run in a bid to make him eligible for public matching funds.
The charges include one count of bribery and honest services wire fraud conspiracy; one count of bribery; and two counts of falsification of records.
Wang asked in court: “Mr. Benjamin do you understand the charges that you face?”
He replied: “Yes, your honor.”
Benjamin agreed to surrender his passport and limit his travel. The judge restricted Benjamin’s travel to the southern and eastern districts of New York — which would bar him from going to Albany — as well as parts of Georgia and Virginia. But it is unclear whether that order will be modified since his job was partially based at the state Capitol.
He left the courthouse and departed in a black SUV, ignoring shouted questions from reporters.
Last week, Benjamin told POLITICO that he was cooperating with authorities, but had not specifically told Hochul, who selected him as her second in command last August, of the situation.
“After Mr. Migdol was charged, it was expected the prosecutors would investigate further,” Benjamin said. “That’s what diligent prosecutors do. I’m fully supportive of their efforts. I’ve provided all information that they have requested, and I will continue to do so if they have any further requests. Out of respect for that investigation, I’m not going to be commenting further. I want to give the investigators a chance to finish their work.”
Hochul has few options to remove him from the election ballot at this point, since petitions have already been submitted — other than him moving out of state or seeking a judgeship. So even with his resignation from office, Benjamin at this point will still be on the June primary ballot.
Last week, Hochul stood by her embattled lieutenant governor, vowing that he would be her running mate.
“I have utmost confidence in my lieutenant governor,” she told reporters. “This is an independent investigation related to other people, and he’s fully cooperating.”
Through the day, calls from Democrats and Republican grew for Benjamin to resign. A main duty of the lieutenant governor is to precede over sessions of the state Senate.
“Governor Hochul said herself this morning that she’s ‘changed the culture of Albany,'” Senate Republican Leader Robert Ortt said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it looks like business as usual in our state Capitol.”
There are several candidates running against Benjamin in the June primary. They include former New York City Council Member Diana Reyes (Rep. Tom Suozzi’s running mate) and Ana Maria Archila (who is running with New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams).
“New Yorkers deserve a government that is accountable to them. We’re disappointed that once again big money has taken precedence over the real needs of working people,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York Working Families Party, which has endorsed Archila and Williams.
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