Donor to Lt. Gov. Benjamin accused of illegal contributions

A real estate developer has been indicted on federal charges that he orchestrated illegal campaign contributions that helped Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin receive public election financing during the Democrat’s losing bid to be elected New York City comptroller.

Gerald Migdol was arrested Friday on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

Prosecutors haven’t publicly alleged that Benjamin had any knowledge of the scheme. The indictment didn’t identify him by name as the candidate who received the illegal donations, but the details of the contributions it described make it clear his campaign was the recipient.

The Benjamin campaign said in a statement that as soon as it discovered the contributions were improper, they were forfeited to the city’s campaign finance board.

“Neither Lieutenant Governor Benjamin nor his campaign are being accused of any wrongdoing and they are prepared to fully cooperate with authorities,” the statement said.

Migdol, 71, was to appear before a judge in the Southern District of New York on Friday. It was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer. A call and an email seeking comment were sent to Migdol at his business.

The allegations date back to Benjamin’s run for city comptroller in 2019 and 2020, when he was a state senator representing part of Manhattan. Benjamin was picked by Gov. Kathy Hochul in August to be her lieutenant governor.

The charges center around New York City’s matching funds program, in which qualified candidates can receive up to $8 in public financing for every $1 in eligible contributions from citizen donors.

Migdol is accused of trying to fraudulently procure the public funds. In some cases, money was given to the candidate’s campaign under one contributor’s name when it actually came from — or was reimbursed by — another person. Other contributions were fraudulently made in the names of individuals who never authorized them, according to the indictment.

The indictment says Migdol successfully conspired to get Benjamin multiple contributions, including five $250 contributions around Nov. 21, 2019, a $125 and two $250 contributions around Jan. 7, 2020, and a $250 contribution around July 9, 2020.

“Free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy, and campaign finance regulations are one way communities seek to ensure everyone plays by the same rules,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, whose office brought the case, said in a statement.