ALBANY — Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, arrested Tuesday and indicted on federal charges related to campaign finance fraud, has resigned.
Gov. Kathy Hochul released a statement late Tuesday afternoon to announce that Benjamin has stepped down.
"I have accepted Brian Benjamin's resignation effective immediately," Hochul said. "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."
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York held a press conference Tuesday afternoon outlining the investigation into a $50,000 state funds grant Benjamin allegedly obtained through abuse of his power.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams answered questions about the investigation and indictment.
“Today, we announced that Brian Benjamin, the lieutenant governor of the state of New York, has been indicted for bribery and related offenses,” Williams said. “Mr. Benjamin surrendered to law enforcement this morning. This is a simple story of corruption.”
Benjamin participated in a scheme from at least about 2019 and up to about 2021, to gain campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for Benjamin’s agreement to use his official authority and influence as a New York state senator to obtain a $50,000 grant of state funds for a nonprofit organization controlled by the developer, according to the federal indictment.
“In an exchange, Benjamin received tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions,” Williams said. “Those contributions were directed both to Benjamin’s State Senate Campaign Committee and to Benjamin’s New York City Comptroller campaign. Taxpayer money for campaign contributions.”
Benjamin repeatedly lied to cover up the bribery scheme, Williams said, including falsifying campaign forms, misleading city regulators and lying on the vetting forms he filled out before he was appointed lieutenant governor.
“That’s a cover-up,” Williams said. “Now public corruption erodes people’s confidence and faith in government. But the Southern district of New York will never give up. It is our obligation, our only obligation is to uphold the rule of law.”
Michael Driscoll, FBI assistant director in charge of the New York Field Office, said it is legal to accept small donations but illegal to exploit one’s official authority by allocating state funds as part of a bribe to procure those donations.
“As alleged, Benjamin’s conduct directly circumvents those procedures put in place to keep our system fair,” Driscoll said. “And for all of those reasons he’s facing these charges today.”
The investigation into Benjamin’s finances is ongoing, Driscoll added.
“Public funds that support grants cannot be used as currency to boost a candidate’s fund raising,” said Jocelyn Strauber, commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation. “And candidates must provide accurate information regarding their contributions and how they are made. Honesty on these issues is not negotiable.”
At a separate press conference held by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday afternoon about the New York City subway shooting, she was asked if she would make a comment regarding Benjamin’s arrest.
She said she had not had a chance to speak with him and that she would issue a statement late Tuesday addressing it. Hochul had not immediately made a public statement and her office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Benjamin was sworn in as lieutenant governor in September of 2021. He was the state senator representing the 30th Senate District, which includes Harlem, East Harlem and the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he served as chairman of the senate Committee on Revenue and Budget and was senior Assistant Majority Leader.
Hochul had announced her choice for lieutenant governor Aug. 26. Benjamin and Hochul previously worked together on a number of issues such as the fight against the opioid epidemic and boosting addiction recovery programs, supporting MWBE business owners and working to make it easier for New Yorkers to vote.
This story was updated at 5:20 p.m with additional information from the office of Gov. Kathy Hochul.
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