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New York's lieutenant governor resigns after being charged with bribery and fraud

New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin leaves the U.S. District Courthouse on Tuesday in New York City.
Alexi J. Rosenfeld
Getty Images
New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin leaves the U.S. District Courthouse on Tuesday in New York City.

New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin has resigned after a federal court announced charges of bribery and wire fraud against him Tuesday for procuring illicit campaign funds.

Benjamin surrendered to the FBI Tuesday morning. His case is being handled by the Southern District Court of New York.

"I have accepted Brian Benjamin's resignation effective immediately," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Twitter. "While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as Lieutenant Governor."

Benjamin, 45, of Harlem, was appointed as lieutenant governor in August 2021. He is being charged with one count of federal program bribery, one count of honest services wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit those offenses and two counts of falsification of records.

The charges carry with them a conviction of 5 to 20 years in prison per count.

While a state senator in 2019, Benjamin was granted $50,000 to use in his district toward entities such as libraries, schools and nonprofit organizations, according to the indictment. The money allegedly went to a nonprofit ran by a real estate developer, who Benjamin had approached about fund-raising.

Initially, the developer voiced uncertainty about being able to procure campaign funds for Benjamin, but upon receipt of the grant, contributed $25,000 to Benjamin's re-election campaign, the Justice Department said.

"My office and our partners at the FBI and DOI will continue to ensure that politicians who put themselves over the public interest will be prosecuted," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

Between October 2019 and January 2021, the real estate developer allegedly continued to secure campaign money for Benjamin's unsuccessful run for New York City Comptroller.

In an effort to conceal the scheme, Benjamin allegedly failed to provide the New York State Board of Elections with documentation identifying the owners of all limited liability corporations, or LLCs, who contributed to campaigns.

When a staff member asked him about it, Benjamin allegedly said, "What happens if someone refuses to provide the information?"

In February 2020, the state's Campaign Finance Board told Benjamin his funds for his comptroller campaign could not be matched because they were deposited using sequentially numbered money orders.

Benjamin's campaign staff then allegedly submitted forms that falsely stated who the funds were procured by.

After being appointed as lieutenant governor, Benjamin allegedly lied on forms about his relationship with donors, stating that he never "directly exercised governmental authority concerning a matter of a donor [he] directly solicited."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]