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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

NY Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin Arrested in Campaign Finance Scheme

Mr. Benjamin will almost certainly face pressure to resign from office. Even if he were to step down, he is likely to remain on the ballot in June, when he faces two spirited primary challengers. Because Mr. Benjamin was designated as the Democratic Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, his name could only be removed at this point if he were to move out of the state, die or seek another office.

Mr. Benjamin said last week that he had been cooperating with investigators, after news outlets, including The New York Times, reported details of the investigation. Accompanied by his lawyers, the lieutenant governor met with prosecutors last week, according to a person familiar with the matter, and his top aides were privately reassuring allies that he expected to be cleared of any wrongdoing.

But at the news conference, Mr. Williams — who announced the charges with Michael J. Driscoll, the assistant director in charge of the New York F.B.I. office, and Jocelyn E. Strauber, commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation — laid out an audacious corruption scheme. The indictment accused Mr. Benjamin of bribing Mr. Migdol to help secure small contributions for his comptroller race that could be used to obtain tens of thousands of dollars in public matching funds through a city program.

Prosecutors said that Mr. Benjamin first approached Mr. Migdol for help in March 2019, months before he announced a campaign for comptroller. In a meeting at Mr. Migdol’s home, the developer told Mr. Benjamin that it would be challenging to help because the pool of possible contributors he would turn to was the same one that he needed to solicit to support his own charity, Friends of Public School Harlem, a group known for giving out school supplies and groceries to needy families.

“Let me see what I can do,” Mr. Benjamin replied, according to the indictment.

In the months that followed, prosecutors said, the politician proceeded to use his State Senate office to secure a $50,000 taxpayer-funded education grant for the charity that Mr. Migdol had never requested, and used it as leverage to press Mr. Migdol to gather contributions.

“Do you recognize the third entity on the list?” Mr. Benjamin texted Mr. Migdol in June, with a screenshot of Mr. Migdol’s charity listed among the projects receiving aid.

During a meeting in Mr. Benjamin’s Harlem office two weeks later, Mr. Migdol handed him three checks totaling $25,000 made out to his Senate campaign account — two in the name of the developer’s relatives and one from an L.L.C. he controlled, prosecutors said.

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