CNN reports New York Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin resigned Tuesday after being arrested and indicted on campaign finance fraud charges.
Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement that she had “accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately. While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as Lieutenant Governor. New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them.”
Benjamin was appointed to his position by Hochul after she took over the state’s top job from Andrew Cuomo following his resignation last summer. Hochul, who just completed contentious budget negotiations in Albany, will now come under scrutiny over the vetting process that preceded her decision to elevate Benjamin, who finished fourth in the 2021 Democratic primary for New York City comptroller — a campaign in which prosecutors now say he sought and received illegal contributions. Benjamin is also accused of lying on a background check that followed Hochul’s decision to make him her top deputy.
Despite stepping down, Benjamin will, in accordance with state law, remain on the primary ballot as the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party.
A senior state party official defended Hochul against criticism of her vetting process, referencing prosecutors’ allegation that Benjamin had lied on his official background check.
“The US attorney made clear in his indictment today that one of the things was an issue was Brian Benjamin’s lack of honesty in the vetting process,” the official said. “I don’t know how you fault the governor or her vetting team, frankly, for getting misinformation. She does not have access to investigations ongoing in the US attorney’s office.”
Benjamin is running against two other Democrats, Ana Maria Archila, a longtime progressive leader supported by the liberal Working Families Party, and Diana Reyna, a former member of the New York City Council.
In a joint statement, Reyna and Congressman Tom Suozzi, who is challenging Hochul in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, cast Benjamin’s arrest as a mark against the new governor.
“Today’s bombshell is an indictment on Kathy Hochul’s lack of experience and poor judgement,” Suozzi and Reyna said. “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.”
According to an indictment unsealed Tuesday, Benjamin was indicted on multiple counts, including bribery and honest services wire fraud conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and two counts of falsification of records, for an alleged conspiracy that took place while he was a state senator.
A source familiar with the matter says Benjamin turned himself in to authorities Tuesday morning. Benjamin pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court and is out on $250,000 bond, according to court documents.
In a statement confirming his resignation, Benjamin’s attorneys said he “will focus his energies on explaining in court why his actions were laudable, not criminal.”