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Political Notebook

N.Y. lieutenant governor is focus of federal inquiry into campaign fraud

New York Governor Kathy Hochul (right) listened as Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin spoke in New York on Sept. 17, 2021. Prosecutors are examining whether Benjamin participated in a plan to boost his campaign fund with fraudulent donations.Brittainy Newman/NYT

Federal prosecutors and the FBI are investigating whether Lieutenant Governor Brian A. Benjamin of New York played a role in an effort to funnel fraudulent contributions to his unsuccessful 2021 campaign for New York City comptroller and have issued subpoenas to his campaign advisers and the state Senate.

The inquiry stems from a federal indictment filed late last year charging a real estate investor from the New York City neighborhood of Harlem, Gerald Migdol, with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and other crimes. Migdol, a longtime supporter of Benjamin’s, was accused of orchestrating a plan to misrepresent or conceal dozens of illegal contributions to Benjamin’s campaign.

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Benjamin has not been accused of wrongdoing, and he was not named in the indictment. But prosecutors from the Southern District of New York subsequently issued several grand jury subpoenas late last year seeking records from Benjamin’s campaign committee, some of its paid staff members, and firms consulting for the campaign, according to three people with direct knowledge of those actions, which have not been previously reported.

The prosecutors sought documents and communications related to Migdol and several associates, campaign fundraising records, and guidance on how involved Benjamin was in the campaign’s efforts to raise money.

More recently, prosecutors began seeking records from the state Senate, where Benjamin represented much of Harlem from 2017 until the summer, when he was tapped by Governor Kathy Hochul to be her lieutenant governor.

The investigation, being conducted by agents from one of the FBI’s public corruption squads in New York and federal prosecutors who handle matters involving government officials, appears to be examining whether Benjamin directed state funding in some way to benefit Migdol in exchange for the contributions.

It is unclear whether Migdol has signed a cooperation agreement with prosecutors to provide information about Benjamin in exchange for leniency.

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If convicted, Migdol faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on the wire fraud charge and a mandatory two-year term for aggravated identity theft.

When asked about the subpoenas, a spokesman for Benjamin’s lieutenant governor campaign referred to a statement released when Migdol was arrested last year. “Neither Lt. Gov. Benjamin nor his campaign are being accused of any wrongdoing, and they are prepared to fully cooperate with authorities,” the statement read.

NEW YORK TIMES

Fortenberry convicted, to resign from Congress

Representative Jeff Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican, said Saturday that he will resign from Congress after he was convicted Thursday on three felony counts for lying to federal investigators about illegal campaign contributions from a foreign billionaire.

In a letter to his House colleagues, Fortenberry said his last day in Congress will be March 31.

“It has been my honor to serve with you in the United States House of Representatives,” Fortenberry wrote. “It has been my pleasure to call many of you friends. May God bless you as you labor for the good of our country, help those in need, and strive for what is right and just.”

In a statement posted on his website, Fortenberry, who took office in 2005, told his constituents that “due to the difficulties of my current circumstances, I can no longer serve you effectively.”

Fortenberry’s charges stem from a 2016 fundraiser held in Glendale, Calif., for the congressman’s reelection. There, Fortenberry received donations totaling $30,200 from Gilbert Chagoury, a wealthy Nigerian business executive of Lebanese descent who used other people as conduits to make the contributions, the US attorney’s office for the Central District of California announced in October.

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Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to candidates running for federal office in the United States. It is also illegal to disguise a donor’s identity through third-party contributions.

Fortenberry was convicted of one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. Each of the counts carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. Felons are eligible to run for and serve in Congress.

Fortenberry’s week-long trial in Los Angeles concluded with a guilty verdict announced after two hours of deliberations on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

WASHINGTON POST