New York State Governor Kathy Hochul suffered a heavy setback to her prospects in the Nov. 8 Gubernatorial Election as Lieutenant Governor and Hochul’s running mate, Brian Benjamin, was arrested and charged in connection with an alleged multi-million dollar campaign finance scheme.
In an Indictment unsealed on April 12 Benjamin was charged with:
- 1 count of Bribery and Honest Services Wire Fraud Conspiracy;
- 1 count of Bribery;
- 1 count of Honest Services Wire Fraud; and
- 2 counts of Falsification of Records.
Prosecutors allege Benjamin established a relationship with a local real estate developer, referred to only as “CC-1,” shortly after being elected as a State Senator in 2017.
When in 2019 Benjamin filed with the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to campaign for the position of NYC Comptroller in the 2021 election, the Senator contacted CC-1 “to procure numerous small contributions” for his campaign, the Indictment alleges.
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The purpose of securing small contributions, the Indictment states, was to exploit the CFB’s Matching Funds Program, which in 2019, paid campaigns $8 in public money for every $1 in funds donated by individual citizens, up to a maximum of $250.
The system meant that for each $250 donation received from the public, Benjamin’s campaign could receive $2,000 in public money disbursed by the CFB, up to a maximum of $3,416,250.
Pleadings state that when CC-1 told Benjamin he wasn’t sure he could fulfill the task because he only had experience in conducting funding drives with organizations, Benjamin told the individual: “Let me see what I can do.”
Fortune stuck for Benjamin when a few months later, Senators were informed that “additional discretionary funding” became available for distribution to organizations in their districts.
Specifically, $50,000 became available to “school districts, libraries, or non-profit organizations for educational purposes.” The opportunity served as a convenient windfall for CC-1, who controlled a non-profit.
Prosecutors allege Benjamin immediately contacted his man to share the news of a $50,000 grant headed his way, an arrangement CC-1 accepted a few weeks later during an in-person meeting by way of producing two $10,000 donations in the names of relatives with different last names and one $5,000 donation from a separate company to Benjamin’s Senate Campaign.
During the meeting, CC-1 made it clear to Benjamin that contributions were procured under the names of relatives and a separate company for the purpose of concealing CC-1 as the source of the funds, the Indictment states.
CC-1 then proceeded to fill out fraudulent campaign contribution paperwork with Benjamin present.
A few months later, Benjamin presented the developer with an oversized novelty check in the amount of $50,000, endorsed with the Senator’s personal signature, during a public event.
Shortly thereafter, CC-1 began amassing and bundling contributions from apparent members of the public for Benjamin’s Comptroller Campaign.
The identity of CC-1
April 12 reporting by The New York Times on Benjamin’s arrest openly identifies CC-1 as Gerald Migdol, a man arrested in November of 2021 on charges the Times described at the time as “scheming to conceal contributions to a candidate in this year’s New York City comptroller’s race in a bid to get as much public financing for the candidate as possible.”
NYT’s November article on Migdol’s arrest stated that although the Indictment did not name the candidate, “The details of the case and publicly available information suggest it is Brian A. Benjamin, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for comptroller and is now New York’s lieutenant governor.”
Governor Hochul took office last August after former Governor Andrew Cuomo was forced to resign in the wake of a long-standing sexual harrassment scandal.
Hochul selected Benjamin to serve both as Lieutenant Governor and her running mate in the 2022 Gubernatorial Election.
AP reported that, according to state election laws, even if Benjamin resigns he will still appear on the ballot as Hochul’s running mate.
The Times linked to a Sept. 13, 2019 Facebook post on Migdol’s personal account that showcased Benjamin personally handing Migdol a $50,000 novelty cheque made out to Friends of Public School Harlem Inc.
The Indictment states that nonetheless, Migdol’s non-profit has yet to lay hands on the $50,000 grant.
$2 million embezzled
The Indictment against Migdol bears a striking resemblance to the allegations contained in the Indictment against Benjamin.
Notably, the pleadings state that “Campaign-1,” implied by NYT to be Benjamin’s campaign for Comptroller, “received at least approximately $2 million” in funding from the CFB’s Matching Funds Program.
The Migdol Indictment states that many of the donations collected were “nominee contributions” from individuals who either did not personally fund the donation or were reimbursed for their services after the fact, a practice which the CFB openly warns is “not only prohibited but also illegal.”
In a specific example, the Indictment alleges that in November of 2019, Migdol withdrew $1,000 from a specific New York bank account and proceeded to sequester five $250 money orders in the names of five separate individuals, one of whom was a minor relative of Migdol.
The Benjamin Indictment appears to confirm this behavioral pattern when it states that in February of 2020, a CFB audit informed Benjamin’s Comptroller Campaign that some contributions were ineligible to receive Matching Funds Program disbursements because “among other reasons, the contributions had been funded by sequentially numbered money orders.”
Benjamin resigned as Lieutenant Governor Tuesday evening, effective immediately.