The second-in-command of New York Governor Kathy Hochul was indicted on federal bribery charges for allegedly funneling illegal donations to one of his previous campaigns.
Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin has surrendered to authorities and will appear in court on Tuesday, according to a statement from the United States Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.
Benjamin’s charges stem from a failed campaign for New York City comptroller, similar to Hochul’s. They come after Hochul took office in August after Andrew Cuomo resigned after being accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. This year, Hochul is running for re-election.
Benjamin participated in a scheme to obtain corrupt campaign donations from a real estate developer from at least 2019 to 2021, according to the indictment, which was unsealed Tuesday. Prosecutors allege that in exchange for the contributions, he agreed to use his power as a state senator at the time to secure a $50,000 state grant for a nonprofit controlled by the developer.
According to the indictment, “Benjamin abused his authority as a New York State senator by engaging in a bribery scheme using public funds for his own corrupt purposes.”
Benjamin, 45, graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in public policy and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School. According to a Senate website, he spent three years at Morgan Stanley, where he worked in financial management and advised nonprofits and individuals “on how best to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars.”
He represented Harlem, East Harlem, and the Upper West Side of Manhattan as a senator. The alleged scheme began in 2019, when the state of New York awarded Benjamin $50,000 in additional discretionary funds for his district to be distributed to schools, libraries, and nonprofit organizations. According to the indictment, Benjamin directed the money to the developer’s charity despite the fact that it had not applied for such funding, and at least one other charity that had applied received nothing.
Prosecutors claim that when the state passed a resolution directing the funds to the developer’s organization, Benjamin took a screen shot of a page from the resolution and texted it to the developer, asking, “Do you recognize the third entity on the list?”
“I do very much — does it mean what I’m hoping?” the developer responded.
“Oh yes it does,” Benjamin said, according to the indictment. “We passed the resolution yesterday! $50K.”
Benjamin shares the same case number as Gerald Migdol, a prominent Harlem developer who was indicted in November. Prosecutors allege that Migdol orchestrated a scheme to conceal the sources of contributions to a candidate for election to an unspecified municipal office in New York City, known only as Candidate-1. In the case, Migdol has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors claim Benjamin met the developer mentioned in the indictment, which was unsealed on Tuesday. After a few years, the developer began donating to community events organized by Benjamin or his district office. According to reports, Benjamin ran for re-election to the Senate in 2019.
According to the US, Benjamin also informed New York City’s campaign finance board that he planned to run for city comptroller in 2021, allowing him to begin fundraising for the race. He was eligible for city matching funds, which allowed him to receive up to $8 for every dollar he contributed. His campaign received about $2 million in public funds in the end.
Benjamin allegedly engaged in the scheme during his unsuccessful run for comptroller, beginning with a 2019 meeting at the developer’s home, where Benjamin asked him to help bundle small donations for his campaign, according to prosecutors. He was told by the developer that he didn’t have any experience bundling donations.
“Let me see what I can do,” Benjamin responded, according to the indictment.