April 12, 2022

USA: New York Lt Governor Arrested This Morning On Charges Of Federal Bribery Conspiracy And Fraud Related To His Unsuccessful City Comptroller Campaign. He Also Supported Defunding Police.

PIX11 News published April 12, 2022: NY lieutenant governor resigns after arrest in federal probe. New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin has resigned in the wake of his arrest in a federal corruption investigation, creating a political crisis for Gov. Kathy Hochul seven months after she selected Benjamin as a partner to make a fresh start in an office already rocked by scandal.
NY Post
written by Nolan Hicks, Jack Morphet, Bernadette Hogan, Carl Campanile, Sam Raskin and Bruce Golding
Tuesday April 12, 2022

New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin surrendered to federal authorities Tuesday morning to face bribery conspiracy charges tied to an alleged campaign finance scheme that dates back to his days as a state senator.

Benjamin, who Gov. Kathy Hochul chose in August as her No. 2 and running mate for this year’s election, is accused of funneling phony campaign contributions to his unsuccessful bid for city comptroller, in a scheme that a top prosecutor called “plain and simple” bribery.

During a press conference, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams labeled Benjamin’s actions “a simple story of corruption.”

“We allege that Benjamin struck a corrupt bargain with a real estate developer,” Williams said. “Benjamin allegedly directed a $50,000 state grant to a nonprofit organization controlled by [the developer] and, in exchange, Benjamin received tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions.

“Those contributions were directed both to Benjamin’s state Senate campaign committee, and to Benjamin’s New York City comptroller campaign,” Williams explained. “Taxpayer money for campaign contributions – quid pro quo, this for that — that’s bribery, plain and simple.”

Williams also noted that the investigation is continuing.

In the five-count Manhattan federal court indictment released Tuesday, prosecutors describe a two-year long effort by Benjamin — stretching from 2019 through 2021 — to obtain campaign contributions from an unnamed real estate developer in exchange for the then-state senator’s arranging for a $50,000 grant from tax funds to be paid to a non-profit controlled by the firm.

They also allege that Benjamin then “engaged in a series of lies and deceptions” to “cover up his scheme” — including filing fraudulent campaign finance reports, misleading the city’s Campaign Finance Board and lying to Hochul’s staff as he was vetted before she selected him to be her lieutenant governor.

“We’ve also alleged that Benjamin repeatedly lied to cover up the bribery scheme, including by falsifying campaign forms, and misleading city regulators,” Williams said. “And we alleged that Benjamin repeatedly lied on the vetting forms that he filled out before he was appointed lieutenant governor. That’s a cover up.”

Benjamin, 45, faces conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and falsification of records charges, according to the 23-page indictment.

“Public corruption erodes people’s confidence and faith in government,” Williams declared. “Public corruption remains a problem in New York. It’s a bipartisan problem, it’s an ongoing problem.”

If convicted on all counts, Benjamin would face a maximum of 75 years in prison, though federal sentencing guidelines would likely result in a considerably shorter term.

In 2020, former longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) was sentenced to 6-1/2 years for pocketing nearly $4 million in payoffs through a pair of pay-to-play bribery schemes, and former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Long Island) was sentenced in 2018 to a little more than four years for shaking down three companies to hire his son for no-show jobs and consulting work.

Another former Senate majority leader, Queens Democrat Malcolm Smith, was sent away for seven years in a scheme to use a $500,000 state contract to buy his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot to run as a Republican in 2013.

In 2018, a former top aide to ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joseph Percoco, was sentenced to six years for scamming $300,000 in a pair of pay-to-play schemes that involved Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” redevelopment plan and a “green energy” provider that wanted a state deal.

Benjamin was released Tuesday afternoon on a $250,000 bond. His travel is now restricted to New York’s southern district and eastern districts as well as northern Georgia and eastern Virginia, barring him from traveling to Albany. He has also been forced by authorities to surrender his passport.

Benjamin, wearing a white KN95 mask, walked out of the courthouse flanked by his attorneys shortly after 2 p.m., when he did not answer questions from a large group of reporters, and was whisked into a black Infiniti SUV.

Benjamin — a Democratic former state senator who represented parts of Harlem — admitted to The Post last month that he was questioned by the feds amid a reported probe into whether he was involved in a scheme to illegally funnel contributions to his 2021 bid to serve as the city’s chief financial officer.

Benjamin spoke with federal prosecutors about conspiracy and wire fraud charges filed in November against Harlem landlord and lawyer Gerald Migdol, who is accused of making illegal, “straw” donations to his campaign, during which he participated in the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s munificent matching funds program for small-dollar donations. The more small-dollar donations a candidate receives, the more matching funds they are alloted by the Campaign Finance Board..

In a press releaseTuesday afternoon, the CFB said, “As the indictment makes clear, in February 2020, the CFB’s audit reviews identified potentially fraudulent contributions prior to issuing any public funds payments. Those contributions were not matched with public funds, nor did they factor into the campaign qualifying for public funds payments.”

“We have been working closely with the Southern District of New York office in this matter,” the statement continued. “We appreciate the work of the SDNY prosecutors, the F.B.I., and the NYC Department of Investigation and will continue to review their findings.”

In November, Migdol was arrested for allegedly orchestrating a scheme to funnel illegal campaign contributions to Benjamin’s 2021 Democratic comptroller primary bid. Migdol made contributions by money order in names that were not his own and reimbursed donors who gave money to a comptroller candidate from 2019 to 2021, according to the indictment.

In response to the arrest — first reported by the New York Times — politicians from across the political spectrum demanded that Benjamin resign while taking aim at Hochul.

“Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin’s arrest today on federal corruption charges is another stain on New York State Government, and calls into question Governor Hochul’s judgment. Over the past few days and weeks, Kathy Hochul and the Majorities in Albany have reinforced their support for Brian Benjamin despite news of federal investigations. Governor Hochul said herself this morning that she’s “changed the culture of Albany,” state Sen. Rob Ortt (R- Niagra), the Senate Minority leader, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, it looks like business as usual in our state Capitol. Kathy Hochul and Senate Democrats might tolerate this corruption, but New Yorkers don’t and neither do I,” he added. “I’m calling on Governor Hochul and Senate Democrats to stop hiding from the truth and join me in demanding Brian Benjamin’s resignation.”

“The news regarding the arrest of Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin is very disappointing for the people of New York state,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R- Oswego). “Albany has a persistent and pervasive corruption problem and today’s federal indictment is a disturbing indication that [the] problem is still a major obstacle hampering the People’s Business. He must resign immediately.”

He added, “While the legal process plays out, we must endeavor to move past this distraction and get back to doing the important work of our state government.”

New York GOP Chair Nick Langworthy labeled Benjamin a “dirty politician.”

“In her first major decision as governor, Kathy Hochul chose a dirty politician to serve as her partner in government and running mate,” he said. “Brian Benjamin’s shady dealings and corruption were well-documented, but Hochul turned a blind eye and put him a heartbeat away from the governorship. This decision was not just dangerous incompetence, it is proof that her tolerance for corruption runs deep in her veins, which is no surprise given she dutifully served with Andrew Cuomo for seven years.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican gubernatorial contender, ripped Hochul, calling him a “bad pick.”

“Kathy Hochul forced Brian Benjamin upon our state as Lieutenant Governor. He was such a bad pick,” he said in a statement. “Running point on the ‘defund the police’ movement in the legislature should have alone disqualified him. When this corruption surfaced, Hochul tripled down. She owns this…all of it! Terrible judgment!”

Rep. Tom Suozzi, a longshot Democratic candidate for governor, also asserted Hochul choosing Benjamin reflected poorly on the governor.

“Today’s bombshell is an indictment on Kathy Hochul’s lack of experience and poor judgement,” he said in a joint statement with his running mate, ex-Councilwoman Diana Reyna.

“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.”

Ana Maria Archila — a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor running alongside Public Advocate Jumaane Williams — called on Benjamin to step aside.

“The lieutenant governor has an important job, and if he cannot perform his duties to the highest standard and focus on the needs of New York, he should resign,” she told The Post in a phone interview. “That is a decision he needs to make, and he needs to ask himself.”

Ahead of the indictment, political experts told The Post that Hochul faced a major decision on whether to keep Benjamin on the ticket, following the revelation that Benjamin was under federal investigation in the alleged campaign finance scheme.

Benjamin served in the Senate from 2017 until September, when then then-newly minted Hochul picked him as her No. 2 following Cuomo’s August resigantion amid a sexual harassment scandal.

But Harlemite Hazel Dukes — president of the state chapter of the NAACP and an early supporter of the Hochul-Benjamin ticket — said Benjamin is innocent until proven guilty, explaining that she wouldn’t abandon him until he had been convicted of a crime.

“The truth will come out. You’re innocent until proven guilty. He’s not guilty,” Dukes told The Post “I still believe in democracy, even though it hasn’t always served blacks and Latinos,” Dukes said.

“I still support both of them,” she added of Hochul and Benjamin.

Assemblywoman Inez Dickens (D- Harlem) said she was “saddened” and “shocked” by the Benjamin indictment.

“I am extremely saddened by the news. I had no idea this was coming down the pike,” Dickens said.

Dickens had received campaign contributions from Migdor over years and said he was known in Harlem political circles because he had real estate business in the areal, she told The Post

“Everyone in Harlem has run into him at one one point or another,” she said.

Before taking office, Hochul separated herself from Cuomo, pledging to usher in a new era in Albany and clean up state government — a pledge complicated by the indictment of her hand-picked running mante

Thus far, Hochul has stood by Benjamin, and claimed she didn’t know about his legal troubles.

“I have utmost confidence in my lieutenant governor,” Hochul said during a press conference Thursday. “This is an independent investigation related to other people and he’s fully cooperating. He is my running mate.”

During an unrelated press conference in Brooklyn Tuesday afternoon, Hochul said she will release a statement on the matter later in the day.

Benjamin said last week, in response to a Post question, that he was subpoenaed prior to his appointment.

Hochul and Benjamin are set be on the Democratic primary ballot in June, and would appear together on the November ticket if they win the primary contest, experts told THe Post

Benjamin may remain on the June 28 primary ballot even if he opts to step down, because he was chosen to be on the ballot at the New York Democratic Party’s convention.

“Resigning from office doesn’t get him off the ballot,” John Conklin, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said Tuesday. “The only way to get off the ballot is death, disqualification or moving out of state. He was nominated or designated coming out of the state convention in February and that period has passed.”

The Benjamin indictment is a “big pickle” for Hochul, said election lawyer Lawrence Mandelker. The embattled lieutenant governor could resign and vacate the office but he would still remain on the ballot, he noted.

He speculated that Benjamin’s ballot status could be part of plea negotiations.Asked about the charges against her running mate and No. 2, Hochul told reporters she would address the arrest later Tuesday.

A report last month revealed that Manhattan federal prosecutors issued several grand jury subpoenas late last year for fundraising records related to Migdol and several associates from Benjamin’s campaign committee, several paid staffers and consulting firms.

The investigation sought to determine how deeply Benjamin was involved in his campaign’s fundraising operation.
Washington Free Beacon
written by Chuck Ross
August 25, 2021

Brian Benjamin says parts of the NYPD 'are not essential for public safety'.

New York's incoming lieutenant governor supports the movement to defund police departments.

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D., N.Y.) selected Brian Benjamin, a Democratic state senator from Harlem, to serve as her number two, according to the New York Times. Hochul assumed office on Tuesday following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo, who faced impeachment following an investigation into his sexual harassment of nearly a dozen women.

Benjamin has been a vocal supporter of police reforms and the Black Lives Matter movement. He came out in favor of the defund movement in January and said he would audit the New York City Police Department and find ways to reallocate portions of its $5.4 billion budget.

"I support the movement to defund the police because I believe that there are parts of the NYPD budget that are not essential for public safety," Benjamin said.

Benjamin has also supported reforms to the parole system and an end to the use of cash bail that critics have blamed for a spike in crime in New York.

The chairman of the New York Republican State Committee criticized Hochul's selection of Benjamin, citing his support for the defund movement.

"New Yorkers are being shot, stabbed, raped, robbed, and attacked in huge crime surges across our state and Kathy Hochul doubled down on Democrats' dangerous agenda by appointing a ‘Defund the Police' radical leftist to serve as her second in command," said Nick Langworthy.

The White House and other Democratic leaders have downplayed support within the party for the defund movement. President Joe Biden accused Republicans of "lying" about Democratic support for the cause, even though influential Democrats, including members of the "Squad," have called for defunding police departments. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has accused Republicans of being in favor of the defund movement because of their support for cuts to most federal programs.

Both Hochul and her predecessor supported reforms for police departments, but neither expressed support for the defund movement. Cuomo said in his farewell address on Monday that calls to defund the police are "misguided" and "dangerous."

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