Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin resigned his office he held for about seven months Tuesday after being arrested on federal bribery charges, Governor Kathy Hochul announced.
“I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately,” Hochul said in a statement announcing Benjamin’s departure. “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.”
Benjamin, who was Hochul’s second in command, faced a federal judge in a Manhattan courtroom Tuesday following an indictment from U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams that charged Benjamin with bribery. He was arrested Tuesday morning after surrendering himself to police.
The indictment alleges that, during his time as a state Senator representing Harlem, Benjamin directed $50,000 in state funds to a nonprofit organization controlled by a real estate developer Gerald Migdol, referred to in the indictment as “CC-1.”
Migdol then allegedly donated tens of thousands of dollars to both Benjamin’s failed campaign for city comptroller and his state Senate reelection campaign, a scheme that lasted from 2019 through 2021.
“This is a simple story of corruption,” Williams said at a press conference following the indictment. “We allege that Benjamin struck a corrupt bargain with a real estate developer referred to in the indictment as CC-1. Taxpayer money for campaign contributions. Quid pro quo. This for that. That’s bribery, plain and simple.”
The indictment further alleges that Benjamin repeatedly lied in an attempt to cover up the alleged bribery scheme – actions that included falsifying campaign forms, misleading city regulators and lying on vetting forms he filled out prior to being appointed lieutenant governor.
The charges brought against were the result of a collaborative investigation between SDNY, the FBI and the city’s Department of Investigation. Michael Driscoll, assistant director of New York’s FBI field office, said while accepting numerous small campaign donations isn’t illegal, Benjamin took things a step too far.
“It is, however, illegal to exploit one’s official authority by allocating state funds as part of a bribe to procure these donations and to engage in activity to then cover up that bribe,” Driscoll said. “As alleged Benjamin’s conduct directly circumvents those procedures put in place to keep our system fair. And for those reasons, he’s facing federal charges today.”
Hochul appointed Benjamin lieutenant governor shortly after she replaced former Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned last August after being hit with nearly a dozen sexual harassment allegations. He took office on Sept. 9.
Benjamin’s resignation came hours after several lawmakers in the state legislature had already called on him to quit, including GOP state Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt and Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay as well as Democratic state Senator Rachel May (D – Syracuse) and Assemblywoman Judy Griffin (D – Long Island).
Even with Benjamin’s resignation, according to a published report, his name will likely still appear on the ballot in June because he was designated as the Democratic Party’s lieutenant governor nominee at its convention this past February.
Up until now, Hochul has stood firmly behind Benjamin as her pick for lieutenant governor. Just last week telling reporters she had the “utmost confidence” in him, following the revelation that the FBI was investigating his campaign finances.
Because candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately during the primary, Hochul could possibly team up with one of Benjamin’s two primary competitors – Ana Maria Archila and Diana Reyna. However, both Archila and Reyna are already running mates with U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D – Long Island) and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams respectively.
Because whoever wins the primary in both the races for governor and lieutenant governor have to run on the same ticket in the general election, Archila said she’ll work with whichever candidate wins the gubernatorial primary.
“Whoever wins the primary in the governor’s race and whoever wins the primary and the lieutenant governor’s race runs together as a ticket and that ticket represents the views of the majority of the voters who elected them,” Archila said. “So of course, if I win the primary, I will work with the person who wins the primary in the governor’s race to make sure that the priorities of working families are at the center. I think that’s what people deserve. And that’s what I would do.”
That, however, didn’t stop Archila from criticizing Hochul’s choice of Benjamin as her lieutenant governor and the way she handled state budget negotiations – which concluded over the weekend, more than a week after the budget deadline.
“Governor Hochul said that she was bringing in a new day in Albany, that she would be a breath of fresh air, and the fact is, that has not happened,” Archila said. “She chose not to protect the public trust and the vetting of her lieutenant governor. And she also chose not to protect the public interest and their priorities that she elevated ultimately, through the budget process.”
Reyna also doesn’t seem a likely ally for Hochul. She released a joint statement with Suozzi denouncing her leadership style shortly after the indictment was announced.
“Today’s bombshell is an indictment on Kathy Hochul’s lack of experience and poor judgment,” Suozzi and Reyna said. “Hochul’s first decision was to pick her LG, who she entrusted with leading her failed bail reform effort, negotiating the budget and last week said she had the utmost faith in him despite many reports of investigations into his conduct in office. Hochul has fostered a culture of continued corruption with months of fundraising from pay-to-play insiders and people doing business with the state, and secretive budget deals that resulted in the billion dollar Bills stadium and little else.”