This story has been updated with new developments. New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin has stepped down after eight months in office that were overshadowed by allegations of campaign finance fraud—and then by his arrest Tuesday. Gov. Kathy Hochul said hours after the arrest that she had accepted Benjamin's resignation, the Albany Times Union reports. "While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as Lieutenant Governor," she said. "New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government."
The 45-year-old Democrat surrendered to authorities early Tuesday to face a five-count indictment charging him with bribery, fraud, and falsification of records, per the New York Times and WNBC. He pleaded not guilty and bail was set at $250,000. Benjamin was appointed lieutenant governor in August 2021 shortly after losing a primary bid for New York City comptroller as a state senator. Through that campaign, authorities say he conspired to direct a $50,000 state grant to a non-profit controlled by a Harlem real estate investor in exchange for thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions beginning in 2019, per CNN.
"Benjamin abused his authority as a New York State senator, engaging in a bribery scheme using public funds for his own corrupt purposes," prosecutors say. They also claim he "engaged in a series of lies and deceptions to cover up the scheme." That allegedly included lying during a background check before becoming lieutenant governor. Last month, media reports indicated subpoenas had been issued as part of an investigation into the claims, prompted by the November indictment charging Benjamin's fundraiser, Gerald Migdol, with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and other crimes.
Prosecutors said Migdol orchestrated thousands of dollars in straw donations—including one in the name of his 2-year-old grandchild—to Benjamin. "The two men were close and traded accolades at a series of charitable and political functions over the years in Harlem," per the Times. "As soon as the campaign discovered that these contributions were improperly sourced, they donated them to the Campaign Finance Board, pursuant to guidance obtained from the CFB," the lieutenant governor's office said in a Nov. 19 statement. The Times notes Benjamin met with prosecutors last week "and his top aides were reassuring allies in private that he expected to be cleared of any wrongdoing in the case." (Read more New York stories.)