Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin of New York was arrested Tuesday on charges of bribery, fraud and falsification of records in connection with a fraudulent campaign funding scheme, The New York Times reported.
Benjamin is second in command to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is in a close race to retain her post after replacing Gov. Andrew Cuomo following his resignation last year.
Hochul was only 4 percentage points ahead of presumptive Republican Party nominee Lee Zeldin in a recent survey, the New York Post reported.
The indictment of Benjamin was the result of an investigation by the FBI, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and the city’s Department of Investigation, the Times reported.
The former state senator is accused of conspiring to direct state funds to a Harlem real estate investor in exchange for arranging thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to Benjamin’s unsuccessful bid to become New York City’s comptroller in 2021.
“In so doing, Benjamin abused his authority as a New York State senator, engaging in a bribery scheme using public funds for his own corrupt purposes,” prosecutors charged in the indictment, according to the Times.
They said he subsequently “engaged in a series of lies and deceptions to cover up the scheme.”
The Harlem investor, Gerald Migdol, was arrested on federal wire fraud charges in November, WNBC-TV reported.
Benjamin surrendered to authorities and was expected to appear in a federal court in New York City on Tuesday, NBC News reported.
The lieutenant governor recently said he had been cooperating with the investigators, who had issued subpoenas to the state Senate and to people who had advised Benjamin during his campaign for comptroller, the Times reported.
After Migdol’s arrest, Benjamin appeared confident that he would be cleared.
According to WNBC, a statement from his office in November said, “Neither Lieutenant Governor Benjamin nor his campaign are being accused of any wrongdoing and they are prepared to fully cooperate with authorities.”
“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,” the statement added.
This illegal activity complicates things for Hochul in the November gubernatorial election.
The Times reported there has not yet been any sign that she was aware of or involved in Benjamin’s alleged crimes.
But having Benjamin as her second in command is still not a good look.
The Times noted that “she took office last year promising to end an era of impropriety in Albany, and selecting Mr. Benjamin, 45, was among her first major decisions as governor.”
Kathy Hochul forced Brian Benjamin upon our state as LG. He was such a bad pick. Running point on the defund the police movement in the legislature should have alone disqualified him. When this corruption surfaced, Hochul tripled down. She owns this…all of it! Terrible judgment! https://t.co/3uSin7OMUI
— Lee Zeldin (@leezeldin) April 12, 2022
Benjamin will likely face pressure to resign from his office.
But even if he does so, it’s likely he will remain on the ballot in the June Democratic primary since the party designated him as its nominee for lieutenant governor, according to the Times.
His nomination could be removed only if he were to move out of state, die or seek to be elected to a different office altogether, the report said.
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