Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin is currently under federal investigation. Benjamin is being investigated for alleged campaign finance fraud. The investigation stems from the knowledge of a close relationship between Benjamin and Gerald Migdol, his realtor and lawyer. Migdol made suspicious donations to Benjamin’s campaign during the comptroller election last year. The investigation seeks to find out if Benjamin was aware of the illegal activities that were allegedly committed by Migdol.
Migdol has already been charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. It is alleged that Migdol would make small donations amounting to $2,000 to Benjamin’s Comptroller campaign. This would then allow Benjamin’s campaign to claim publicly-funded matching funds on the donations from the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Migdol is facing 20 years in prison if he is found guilty. As of right now, he has pleaded not guilty and is currently out on a $250,000 bond. It is not clear whether Migdol has made a deal implicating Benjamin in return for leniency. Some reports have pointed to the timing of the issuing of subpoenas, and the fact that the same prosecutors who charged Migdol are handling the Benjamin inquiry, as a hint to a possible deal having been made.
Benjamin and Migdol have been confirmed to share a close relationship, proven by their recorded history. Migdol has made donations to Benjamin’s campaigns, which include a $400 donation he made personally. According to reports, a number of donations made to Benjamin’s campaign were completed by people with close ties to Migdol, including donations made by Migdol’s wife and in the name of his two-year-old grandson.
Benjamin has a history of financial scandals. During his state senate campaign, Benjamin allegedly used campaign funds to pay for an event that turned out to be a wedding celebration for him and his wife. The festivities were hosted at a Harlem jazz club and were attended by many political officials, including Governor Kathy Hochul. Federal subpoenas have been issued regarding Benjamin’s campaign funds. These subpoenas are requesting financial records from Benjamin’s campaign committee, staffers, and consulting firms. Another subpoena was issued to the state Senate regarding $50,000 that was in Benjamin’s discretionary spending when he was a state senator. The discretionary spending was directed in 2019 to Migdol’s charity, Friends of Harlem Public Schools Inc.
The federal investigation of Benjamin comes at the wrong time for him and his political superior, Governor Kathy Hochul. Hochul picked Benjamin as her deputy when she came into office, replacing former Governor Andrew Cuomo. Hochul and Benjamin both have ambitions of standing for election and filling their positions for a full term. This investigation will put Governor Hochul in a difficult position with having to make a decision of whether to ask him to resign or keep him in her administration. Having a lieutenant governor with multiple scandals, allegations, and an active federal investigation might tarnish Hochul’s image to New Yorkers, an image that she is already struggling to keep up.
The fact that Benjamin, who is the second-highest political official in New York, is under federal investigation with the primary elections taking place so soon makes this a very testing time for the Democrats. Political strategists have given their perspectives on the matter. “The Democrats need to sit him down and get the truth. The combination of increased crime throughout the state and a lieutenant governor, who could be indicted, could be lethal,” said political strategist Hank Sheinkopf. Some consultants have said it’s too early to have a definitive view of what is going to eventually happen, time would definitely tell.