New York, NY – October 12, 2021: Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin speaks at Local 802 AFM Centennial celebration at Central Park. (Shutterstock)
By Molly Crane-Newman, New York Daily News
A Harlem real estate developer flipped on disgraced ex-Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin in a secret plea hearing last month, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday.
Jerry Migdol’s guilty plea in Manhattan Federal Court on April 11 came five months after his indictment for trying to scam the city’s system for matching campaign donations. He admitted to organizing and concealing tens of thousands of dollars in fake contributions from 2019 to 2021 for Benjamin’s failed city comptroller bid — including one from his 2-year-old relative — to boost the candidate’s campaign war chest. Migdol also pleaded guilty to defrauding banks from 2018 to 2019.
“I entered into a quid pro quo agreement with Brian Benjamin, who was then a state senator. Specifically, he offered to obtain a $50,000 state grant for my charitable organization in exchange for campaign contributions that I agreed to give him and procure for him,” Migdol told the court, according to an unsealed transcript of the hearing.
“The fraudulent contributions were intended to enable Brian Benjamin’s campaign to procure public matching funds under false pretenses.”
Benjamin resigned hours after his April 12 indictment on federal corruption charges related to his role in the alleged scheme to steer state funds to Migdol’s nonprofit, Friends of Public School Harlem, in exchange for the straw donations.
Migdol’s plea carries up to 107 years in prison. Prosecutors say they’ll seek leniency on his behalf in exchange for his cooperation, filings show.
A source familiar with the matter previously told the Daily News that Migdol, 72, was ready and willing to flip on the lieutenant governor after his November 2021 arrest. The unsealed filings are the first official confirmation Migdol is cooperating with the feds.
Benjamin first asked Migdol for help fund-raising for his city campaign at the developer’s home in March 2019, according to the indictment. When Migdol said he relied on the same donor pool to fund his nonprofit, Benjamin allegedly hatched a plan to get both men compensated. In exchange for the fund-raising, Benjamin pledged to allocate public money to Migdol’s nonprofit through his state senate office, prosecutors say.
New York City’s Campaign Finance Board provides up to $8 for every dollar of eligible funds raised by a candidate. Unable to raise legit donations for Benjamin’s failed comptroller bid, Migdol simply made them up, in some cases issuing donations in the name of people who’d never heard of the candidate, The City first reported.
Benjamin didn’t tell Gov. Hochul authorities were probing his past grants before she tapped him to serve as her right-hand man last summer, The News reported.
Migdol’s lawyer Joel Cohen did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment. Benjamin and his attorneys could not be reached.