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Brian Benjamin, New York’s lieutenant governor, has surrendered himself to authorities in connection with a past campaign, two people familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
The Manhattan federal court will hear Benjamin’s case later Tuesday. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office and Benjamin’s representative were unable to comment on Benjamin’s arrest.
Benjamin was arrested after prosecutors in Manhattan and the FBI investigated whether he knowingly committed campaign finance fraud. Two sources familiar with the subpoenas said then that subpoenas were issued for the investigation.
As part of the investigation, investigators examined whether Benjamin disbursed state funds to contributors and/or their projects.
Earlier this week, the FBI and the U.S. attorney declined to comment to reporters on the investigation into Benjamin.
No one from the office of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins returned requests from reporters for comment.
Governor Kathy Hochul appointed Benjamin lieutenant governor in 2021, shortly after losing her primary run for New York City comptroller. Previously, he served as Senator for the District 30 of New York State, which includes Harlem, East Harlem (El Barrio), Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights and Morningside Heights.
An FBI investigation into Benjamin followed the arrest of his fundraiser, Gerald Migdol, in November. As a result of an alleged campaign fundraising fraud scheme, Benjamin is charged with wire fraud.
Comment requests from reporters were not returned by Migdol’s lawyer.
The lieutenant governor’s office responded to questions regarding Benjamin’s investigation by referring them to its Nov. 19 press statement that said it was prepared to cooperate with the investigation.
“Neither Lieutenant Governor Benjamin nor his campaign are being accused of any wrongdoing and they are prepared to fully cooperate with authorities,” it read. “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.”
Reports of the investigation first appeared in the Daily News and then in the New York Times.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Benjamin engaged in criminal conduct while he was a state senator, but there is no evidence Ms. Hochul was aware of it. Yet she promised to end Albany’s era of impropriety when she took office last year, and choosing Mr. Benjamin, 45, was one of the first major decisions she made as governor.
Mr. Benjamin will appear in United States District Court in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon after the charges were announced by federal prosecutors and the F.B.I.
A resignation request will almost certainly be made of Mr. Benjamin. Regardless of whether he steps down, he is likely to face two spirited challengers in June. Mr. Benjamin was selected as the Democratic Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, so he cannot be removed unless he leaves the state, dies, or runs for another office.
He recently said he had cooperated with investigators, who issued subpoenas in recent weeks to members of the State Senate in Albany and campaign advisers for the comptroller campaign. The lieutenant governor and his top aides had been privately assuring allies last week that he expected to be exonerated of any wrongdoing in the case.
However, there was strong evidence that Gerald Migdol, a Harlem real estate investor who illegally assisted his campaign, provided information to investigators soon after he was arrested for wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and other crimes related to his involvement in the matter.
As prosecutors described it, Mr. Migdol funneled thousands of dollars worth of fraudulent donations to Mr. Benjamin as early as October 2019, less than a month after he declared his candidacy for comptroller. They claimed he made straw donations on behalf of unconsenting individuals, which included his 2-year-old grandson, and repaid others for the cost of their contributions.
Mr. Migdol’s motive was not mentioned at the time by the prosecutors, and neither was Mr. Benjamin explicitly named. They said his scheme was intended to make use of New York City’s generous matching funds program and to unlock tens of thousands of dollars in additional campaign funds for the candidate.
Their friendship grew during the course of a series of charitable and political events over the years in Harlem, where Mr. Migdol distributed school supplies and turkeys through his charitable organization.
In September 2019, Mr. Benjamin presented Mr. Migdol with a cardboard check oversized for $50,000 for Friends of Public School Harlem, according to records and a Facebook photo posted at the time by Mr. Migdol. There is no word on whether or not the funds, which were intended for a state discretionary education fund, were ever delivered, but they represented one of the largest outside gifts the small charity had ever received.
Mr. Benjamin, a graduate of the Ivy League, spent most of his career in the banking and affordable housing sectors before being elected to the State Senate in 2017 to represent Harlem.
After Democrats won control of Albany in 2018, he was a strong proponent of criminal justice reform measures. As a candidate for comptroller, he came in fourth place.