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Federal authorities allege that Benjamin, 45, struck a corrupt bargain with a real estate developer and directed a $50,000 state grant to a nonprofit organization the developer controlled. In exchange, the developer funneled tens of thousands of dollars to Benjamin’s campaign accounts for state senate and for New York City comptroller.
“This is a simple story of corruption,” Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Tuesday.
“Taxpayer money for campaign contributions. Quid pro quo. This for that. That’s bribery, plain and simple.”
Benjamin, through his attorneys, has denied the charges and pledged to prove in court “why his actions were laudable, not criminal.”
“There has never been a federal case like this in America,” attorneys James D. Gatta and William J. Harrington said in a statement. “Brian supported a $50,000 grant to Friends of Public School Harlem. Every dollar was to buy supplies for public school students in Harlem. There was nothing inappropriate about this grant.”
Benjamin is facing a long list of charges: one count of federal program bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; one count of honest services wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years; one count of conspiracy to commit those offenses, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison; and two counts of falsification of records, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
“These are serious charges in the federal system,” Brett Tolman, the former U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah told Fox News Digital in an interview Wednesday. “Two things that a lot of people don’t realize is there’s very few misdemeanors. So almost everything is a felony, as is the case here.”
“And there’s also no parole. So when you get a sentence … you’re going to serve all of whatever your sentence is. Here you have the potential for lengthy sentences — years and years — in federal prison.”
Tolman, who is executive director of Right on Crime, said the charges against Benjamin “outline a pay-to-play scheme.”
Benjamin appeared in Manhattan federal court Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty and was released on $250,000 bail. The terms of his release call for his travel to be restricted and bar him from returning to the state capitol in Albany.
On Tuesday after his arrest, Benjamin resigned from his position as lieutenant governor.
“I have 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,” Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Hochul in September chose Benjamin, then a state lawmaker, to serve as her second-in-command when she became governor, taking over for Democrat Andrew Cuomo, who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations, which Cuomo has denied.
Hochul and Benjamin were to appear on the ballot for the Democratic primary election in June. It appears the Harlem politician’s name will likely remain as the deadline for withdrawing his candidacy passed in February, according to the New York Post.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.