Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin Blunders

In August, when Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed then-State Sen. Brian Benjamin as Lieutenant Governor of New York, Albany Update noted that some ethical questions had been raised about him. Since then, new questions about Lt. Gov. Benjamin have arisen.

Back in August, reports indicated that Sen. Benjamin may have used campaign funds to pay bills connected to his wedding celebration. At the time, Gov. Hochul claimed that the matter had been “‘fully investigated and resolved.’” Sen. Benjamin reportedly agreed to reimburse his campaign account for the celebration-related expenses and later acknowledged his “mistakes.”

More recently, a New York City real estate executive who is close to Lt. Gov. Benjamin was arrested for fraud and identity theft. Gerald Migdol is alleged to have masterminded the payment of fraudulent donations to Lt. Gov. Benjamin’s 2021 campaign for New York City Comptroller in the names of individuals who had not authorized those donations. (One of those individuals was Migdol’s two-year-old grandson.) The goal of the alleged fraud was to increase the number of Benjamin’s small donors so that he would qualify for matching campaign funds from the City of New York. Lt. Gov. Benjamin has donated the unlawful contributions and is not accused of any wrongdoing.

In November, the New York Daily News reported that then-Sen. Benjamin answered questions incorrectly on a signed background check form that he completed and submitted to the state in August. Specifically, the form incorrectly stated that he had not been contacted by authorities about potential violations of law or regulations; however, at the time he signed the form, then-Sen. Benjamin had already been contacted by the authorities about both the wedding celebration payments and the Migdol donations. The form also states that Benjamin had not employed any lobbyists; this information was inaccurate as well.

It is no secret that New York government is a cesspool of corruption. Two of our last four governors (Govs. Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo) have resigned from office due to wrongdoing and scandal, and a third (Gov. David Paterson) declined to seek election amidst swirling accusations of various sorts. Over the past decade alone, five legislative leaders (Republican Dean Skelos and Democrats Pedro Espada Jr., John Sampson, Sheldon Silver, and Malcolm Smith) have been incarcerated.

Given all of this, the reports on Lt. Gov. Benjamin may seem like small potatoes. They may reflect simple carelessness on the part of Lt. Gov. Benjamin. For example, it is entirely possible that the background check document was completed by a staffer, and that then-Sen. Benjamin did not take the time to review it with care. However, it is also possible that they reflect dishonesty. New Yorkers should keep an eye on Lt. Gov. Benjamin, and the Lieutenant Governor should take greater care with his paperwork and with the company he chooses to keep.