The leader of New York’s NAACP chapter has offered a vehement defense of the state’s now-former lieutenant governor, who was indicted for alleged campaign finance violations before resigning from his powerful post on the same day.
Brian Benjamin, who up until Tuesday was the second-most powerful elected official in the state of New York, stepped down as lieutenant governor on Tuesday hours after he was indicted for what the New York Times described as allegedly “directing a brazen scheme to funnel illegal donations to his past political campaigns and cover up the criminal activity.”
In layman’s terms, Benjamin was accused of “bribery, honest services wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit those offenses,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.
The charges stem from 2019 when Benjamin was a State Senator and also served as the chair of the Revenue and Budget Subcommittee.
That was when he allegedly used his power as an elected official to steer grant money from the state to a real estate developer’s company to secure campaign contributions from that same real estate developer, who was not identified by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Benjamin is also accused of falsifying records linked to the real estate developer’s contribution to make the donations appear as if they came from someone else. In addition, Benjamin was charged for allegedly making false statements on a questionnaire related to his ambitions to be lieutenant governor.
“Benjamin abused his power and effectively used state funds to support his political campaigns,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
But the leader of the New York State chapter of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights group, predicted Benjamin would be vindicated of the charges once the truth comes out.
“When this is all over with, it’ll be what I know: Brian did not do anything to break the law,” Hazel N. Dukes, president of the New York State chapter of the NAACP, told the New York Times on Tuesday.
Dukes, who is a former president of the national NAACP organization, was described by the Times as “one of Mr. Benjamin’s political mentors.” Notably, Dukes pleaded guilty in 1997 to stealing $13,000 from one of her employees who was suffering from cancer while she ran the Offtrack Betting Corporation, a gambling company.
Other political allies of Benjamin did not immediately release statements about his indictment.
Benjamin became New York’s lieutenant governor last year following the resignation of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who remains dogged by credible reports of sexual harassment. When Cuomo resigned, then-Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul took over and selected Benjamin to be her second in command.
He has previously been accused of other campaign finance violations, including last year during his unsuccessful run for New York State Comptroller. In that instance, 23 separate donations were ultimately returned by Benjamin following an investigation that revealed one of the contributions was actually credited to a toddler.
Benjamin, who had not been lieutenant governor for a full year when he resigned Tuesday, remains on the ballot for the Democratic primary in June. The deadline to remove candidates’ names from the ballot was Monday at midnight, hours before Benjamin surrendered to the FBI Tuesday morning.
The City NY reported that Democratic operatives were trying to convince Benjamin to re-establish his primary residence out of state to make him ineligible for the election.
This is a developing story that will be updated as additional information becomes available.