ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — New York State Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin has resigned after he was taken into custody Tuesday on campaign finance charges. The indictment charging Benjamin with bribery and related offenses was unsealed during a press conference at noon.
NEWS10 has obtained a copy of the federal indictment from the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. It alleges that Benjamin schemed to obtain campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for a $50,000 state grant. He reportedly offered his official authority and influence in the New York State Senate to funnel the funds.
The indictment characterized it as “a bribery scheme using public funds for his own corrupt purposes.” Take a look at the document below:
Benjamin, whose seven months in the role were overshadowed by probes into a previous campaign, was arrested Tuesday in a federal corruption investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s office said Benjamin was arrested on charges of bribery, honest services wire fraud, and falsification of records.
He resigned Tuesday afternoon. Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement: “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.”
Attorneys for Benjamin also released a statement on his behalf, saying:
“There has never been a federal case like this in America. Brian supported a $50,000 grant to Friends of Public School Harlem. Every dollar was to buy supplies for public school students in Harlem. There was nothing inappropriate about this grant.
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.
He looks forward to when this case is finished so he can rededicate himself to public service.”
With Benjamin’s resignation taking place immediately, New York State Senate Majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will become acting Lt. Governor while still maintaining her leadership role. NEWS10 has not received notification on a timeline for the process, but things have been moving quickly at the Capitol since the issue was brought up last week. NEWS10 has learned that there will not be a ceremony once the majority leader takes over the role as she will only be acting lieutenant governor.
Formerly a state senator from New York City’s Harlem, Benjamin joined the Hochul administration in September, chosen by her to fill her former job a couple of weeks after she stepped into the governorship following the resignation of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo over sexual harassment allegations. But just over two months later, a real estate developer who steered campaign contributions toward Benjamin’s failed bid for New York City comptroller was indicted.
Federal authorities accused Gerald Migdol of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft in illegally giving donations to Benjamin’s campaign. Prosecutors had previously not made any accusations against Benjamin, and his campaign said at the time of Migdol’s arrest that it had forfeited any improper donations as soon as they were discovered.
More recently, reports came out saying subpoenas had been issued to Benjamin regarding the financial issues even before Hochul picked him as lieutenant governor. Despite her saying she didn’t know of the subpoenas at the time, Hochul proclaimed her support for Benjamin, and he said he had told state police as they went through the process of vetting him.
“I have utmost confidence in my lieutenant governor,” Hochul said during a Thursday press conference. “This is an independent investigation related to other people, and he’s fully cooperating. He is my running mate.”
Benjamin was also in attendance at the press conference, saying: “The state police did a thorough investigation. I participated in that and the state police gave a recommendation to the governor. And that was the process. That typically is the process for any appointments. I followed the process as it was supposed to be followed.”
But that is now changing with the news of Benjamin’s resignation. Republicans and Democrats had been calling for the politician to resign.
“I think it’s pretty important that he does [resign]. These are very serious allegations,” New York State Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said. “He has been under investigation I think for sometime, but now that he has been arrested, I don’t see how he can preform his job duties going forward with this cloud over his head.”
Benjamin was the state’s second Black lieutenant governor. During his state Legislature career, the Democrat emphasized criminal justice reform and affordable housing. His district included most of central Harlem, where he was born and raised by Caribbean immigrant parents. He has a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Brown University and a master’s of business administration from Harvard Business School and worked as a developer of affordable housing.
The New York State Democratic Primary is in June. The New York State Board of Elections told NEWS10 Benjamin’s arrest would not take him off the ballot. A conviction would put him out of office by operation of law; however, he’d still be on the ballot despite his resignation. Hochul could pick a new sitting lieutenant governor. If she does, it still does not change Benjamin’s ballot status.
Requests for comment have not been returned by Benjamin’s office, Hochul’s office, or Stewart-Cousins’s office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.