New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin has resigned after he surrendered to authorities to face campaign finance fraud-related charges in connection with a past campaign, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced.
“I have 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. New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them,” Hochul said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Benjamin, a Democrat, was charged with bribery, fraud, conspiracy and falsification of records in an alleged scheme to obtain campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for Benjamin’s agreement to use his influence as a state senator to get a $50,000 grant of state funds for a nonprofit organization the developer controlled.
Facing charges including bribery, fraud, conspiracy and falsification of records, Benjamin pleaded not guilty Tuesday at an initial appearance in Manhattan federal court. He was released and bail was set at $250,000.
The lieutenant governor appeared in Manhattan federal court Tuesday afternoon, and left without talking to reporters. Lawyers representing Benjamin, a Democrat, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, who appeared at a New York City news conference Tuesday regarding a shooting on the subway, said she would speak about Benjamin later in the day.
“We’ll have a statement out there. I have not had a chance to speak to him. I was doing media interviews this morning. But this is not the place but I will be addressing it very shortly,” Hochul said.
His arrest comes after reports that Manhattan federal prosecutors and the FBI were investigating whether Benjamin knowingly engaged in a campaign finance fraud scheme. Subpoenas were issued in connection with the investigation, two sources familiar with the subpoenas said at the time.
The indictment said Benjamin, formerly a state senator from Harlem, and others acting at his direction or on his behalf also engaged in a series of lies and deceptions to cover up the scheme that stretched from 2019 to 2021.
They falsified campaign donor forms, misled municipal regulators and provided false information in vetting forms Benjamin submitted while he was being considered to be appointed as lieutenant governor, the indictment said.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney and a spokesman for the FBI both previously declined WNBC requests for comment regarding the investigation into Benjamin. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins also did not return requests for comment.
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Benjamin was appointed lieutenant governor by Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2021, shortly after losing a primary bid for New York City comptroller. He previously served as the New York State Senator for District 30, which is made up of Harlem, East Harlem (El Barrio), the Upper West Side, Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights and Morningside Heights.
The investigation into Benjamin came after the FBI arrested his fundraiser, Gerald Migdol, in November. He is charged with wire fraud in connection with an alleged campaign fraud scheme linked to past Benjamin fundraising.
A lawyer for Migdol did not return requests for comment.
After the indictment was announced, the New York City Campaign Finance Board said in a statement that no public funds were issued to Benjamin’s campaign.
“The CFB’s audit reviews identified potentially fraudulent contributions prior to issuing any public funds payments,” the CFB said. “Those contributions were not matched with public funds, nor did they factor into the campaign qualifying for public funds payments.”
Following the confirmation that Benjamin was being investigated, the lieutenant governor’s office referred questions to its Nov. 19 press statement issued at the time of Migdol’s arrest in which it said it was prepared to cooperate.
“Neither Lieutenant Governor Benjamin nor his campaign are being accused of any wrongdoing and they are prepared to fully cooperate with authorities,” it said. “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.”