U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), a gubernatorial candidate, criticized Gov. Kathy Hochul’s judgment following the arrest of Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin on Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Justice released the indictment of Benjamin on Tuesday, charging him with bribery, honest services fraud and falsifying records. Benjamin allegedly used his power as a state senator to direct state grants and influence various zoning decisions to appease a donor who illegally contributed to his lieutenant governor campaign, officials said.
“As alleged, Brian Benjamin used his power as a New York state senator to secure a state-funded grant in exchange for contributions to his own political campaigns,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “By doing so, Benjamin abused his power and effectively used state funds to support his political campaigns.”
“Exploiting one’s official authority by allocating state funds as part of a bribe to procure donations to a political campaign, and engaging in activity to cover up the bribe, is illegal,” FBI New York Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said. “As we allege today, Benjamin’s conduct in this scheme directly circumvents those procedures put in place to keep our systems fair.”
Benjamin was arraigned, pleaded not guilty and was released on a $250,000 bond, officials said. Later, Hochul said Benjamin had resigned from his post.
“I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately,” Hochul said in a statement. “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.”
Suozzi, following Benjamin’s arrest, issued a statement disapproving of Hochul’s decision to select him as her lieutenant governor and running mate in the upcoming election.
“Today’s bombshell is an indictment on Kathy Hochul’s lack of experience and poor judgment,” Suozzi said. “Hochul’s first decision was to pick her [lieutenant governor], 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.”
State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) called the allegations against Benjamin “serious” and “disturbing” in a statement imploring him to resign, prior to his decision to do so.
“As elected officials, we are held to a higher standard of conduct, and there can be no room for even the appearance of wrongdoing that would betray the public trust,” Kaplan said.
Suozzi also said the governor “has fostered a culture of continued corruption” during her time in office, calling attention to plans to have taxpayers pay upwards of $1 billion to fund a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
Hochul’s husband is employed by Delaware North, the company which has operated various concessions and retail services at the Bills’ stadium for nearly three decades. Hochul previously denied there was any conflict of interest in negotiating the deal for the new stadium.
“Hochul has fostered a culture of continued corruption with months of fundraising from pay-to-play insiders and people doing business with the state, and secretive budget deals that resulted in the billion dollar Bills stadium and little else,” Suozzi said. “The Suozzi/Reyna ticket will clean up this corrupt mess, combat crime, cut taxes by 10 percent, reduce gas prices and utility bills, and put hard working New Yorkers first.”