Washington— New York Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin was indicted on Tuesday for his alleged role in a campaign finance fraud scheme, with prosecutors saying he sought to use his authority as a state legislator to direct a state-funded grant to a non-profit organization. in exchange for campaign contributions to his failed campaign for New York City Comptroller.
The unsealed indictment in Manhattan federal court details the scheme Benjamin allegedly engaged in with a real estate developer who controlled the nonprofit while he was a member of the New York State Senate. Benjamin faces five counts, including bribery, wire fraud and falsification of documents.
“State funds that support grants cannot be used as bargaining chips to stimulate a candidate’s fundraising,” New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber said during the interview. a press conference announcing the charges. “Honesty on these matters is non-negotiable.”
The New York Times reported that Benjamin has already surrendered to authorities and is expected to appear in Manhattan court later Tuesday.
“Benjamin abused his authority as a New York State Senator, engaging in a bribery scheme using public funds for his own corrupt purposes,” prosecutors allege, adding that he also “engaged in a series of lies and deceptions to cover up his scheme, including falsifying campaign donor forms, misleading city regulators, and providing false information in verification forms” that Benjamin submitted while he was under consideration for the position of lieutenant governor.
Prosecutors for the property developer said they were involved with Benjamin in the campaign finance scheme Gerald Migdol was arrested last November. He is not named in the indictment accusing the lieutenant governor.
Under the scheme established by prosecutors in court documents, Benjamin was awarded a $50,000 state-funded grant for developer-controlled nonprofit education in exchange for campaign contributions that would qualify for the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s Matching Funds program, which provides public funds to match small donations.
During his unsuccessful bid for City Comptroller, Benjamin received at least $2 million in public funds through the Public Campaign Finance Program. After losing the comptroller primary, he resumed his role as a state senator, then was selected as lieutenant governor of New York by Governor Kathy Hochul in August 2021.
Prosecutors say the alleged scheme began in March 2019, when Benjamin asked the developer to secure numerous small contributions for his controller campaign. After the developer, Migdol, expressed concerns about the ability to aggregate political contributions, Benjamin told him, “Let me see what I can do,” according to the indictment.
Several months later, in late May 2019, Benjamin informed the developer that he had secured a $50,000 grant for the nonprofit, although the grant was not immediately disbursed, according to prosecutors.
Several weeks later, in July 2019, the indictment says Benjamin met with the developer at his Senate district office and received checks totaling $25,000 for his Senate campaign, because Benjamin had not yet submitted his candidacy for the position of controller. Prosecutors allege the contributions, made in the name of two of the developer’s relatives, were an “attempt to conceal any connection between” him and the donations.
The indictment claims that during the meeting, Benjamin reminded Migdol of the state grant for his nonprofit, and he still expected the promoter to secure small contributions for his campaign. of controller.
In September 2019, Benjamin attended a fundraising event for the developer’s organization, where he presented a novelty check for $50,000, which prosecutors say served as a “reminder of the Benjamin’s use of his official authority” for the benefit of the non-profit organization. Days after the event, Benjamin became eligible to begin receiving donations for his comptroller campaign after filing for the job.
According to the indictment, Benjamin called the developer in early October 2019 and clarified that he wanted eligible contributions to the city’s public campaign finance program. Over the span of three months, beginning in October 2019, the developer provided numerous donations to Benjamin’s comptroller’s campaign, many of which were fraudulent, prosecutors say, because they were made in the names of people who didn’t. had not authorized the contributions.
After THE CITY published an article questioning the legitimacy of some of Benjamin’s comptroller’s campaign contributions, the nonprofit ceased its efforts to secure payment of the state grant, which she had not yet received.
In addition to engaging in the alleged campaign finance scheme, Benjamin is also accused of attempting to use his influence to obtain from the real estate developer a zoning waiver allowing construction on a property in Harlem in exchange of a $15,000 donation to an anonymous political campaign committee in 2020.
Prosecutors allege Benjamin and others acting on his behalf “engaged in a series of lies and deceptions” to cover up the bribery scheme and his connection to the promoter.
Hochul tapped Benjamin to serve as her lieutenant after she became governor following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo. He took the role in September.