Benjamin was accused in an indictment of participating in a scheme to obtain campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for Benjamin’s agreement to use his influence as a state senator to get a $50,000 grant of state funds for a nonprofit organization the developer controlled.
Facing charges including bribery, fraud, conspiracy and falsification of records, Benjamin pleaded not guilty Tuesday at an initial appearance in Manhattan federal court. He was released and bail was set at $250,000. The terms of his release call for his travel to be restricted and bar him from returning to the state capitol in Albany.
Benjamin and his lawyer did not comment as they left the courthouse Tuesday afternoon. Hochul later announced his resignation.
“I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately,” she 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.”
Hochul in September plucked Benjamin, then a state lawmaker, to serve as second-in-command when she became governor, taking over for Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo resigned amid allegations he sexually harassed 11 women, which he denied.
Hochu was Cuomo’s lieutenant governor. She is now running in this year’s election to remain governor, with Benjamin previously as her running mate.
Two months after Benjamin became lieutenant governor, a real estate developer who steered campaign contributions toward Benjamin’s failed bid for New York City comptroller was indicted. Federal authorities accused Gerald Migdol of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft in illegally giving donations to Benjamin’s campaign.
The indictment said Benjamin, formerly a state senator from Harlem, and others acting at his direction or on his behalf engaged in a series of lies and deceptions to cover up the scheme that stretched from 2019 to 2021.
They falsified campaign donor forms, misled municipal regulators and provided false information in vetting forms Benjamin submitted while he was being considered to be appointed as lieutenant governor, the indictment said.
Prosecutors had previously not made any accusations against Benjamin. His campaign said at the time of Migdol’s arrest that it had forfeited any improper donations as soon as they were discovered.
More recently, reports came out saying subpoenas had been issued to Benjamin regarding the financial issues before Hochul picked him as lieutenant governor.
Before Benjamin’s arrest, Hochul had defended him, saying last week she had the “utmost confidence” in him. She said on Monday that she didn’t know of the subpoenas when she tapped Benjamin to be her No. 2.
Even with his resignation, he will still likely appear on the ballot for the 2022 gubernatorial Democratic primary even if Hochul picks a new lieutenant governor, according to state elections law.
Benjamin was the state’s second Black lieutenant governor. During his state Legislature career, he emphasized criminal justice reform and affordable housing. His district included most of central Harlem, where he was born and raised by Caribbean immigrant parents.
The scandal is the latest in a long history of lawmakers and other Albany leaders who’ve been engulfed in allegations of wrongdoing.
Cuomo’s resignation as governor came not only amid allegations of sexual harassment but that his administration misrepresented the number of New Yorkers who died in nursing homes from COVID-19.
In 2008, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution investigation.
Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the most powerful figures in state government, resigned in 2015 after he was arrested on federal corruption charges.
Former Republican state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who for a time shared power with Silver, was convicted of extortion, wire fraud and bribery.
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.