New York state’s now ex-lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin held the state’s second highest office for just over seven months until resigning following a five-count indictment for corruption on Tuesday. He pleaded not guilty in the case.
Still, his resignation makes him the latest to join the ignominious ranks of New York state elected officials who left office under the cloud of scandal.
Prosecutors allege Benjamin abused his position as an elected official as part of a bribery scheme where he funneled a state grant to a real estate developer’s nonprofit in exchange for bundling straw donors to his New York City Comptroller campaign account.
“Public corruption erodes people’s faith in government,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said when announcing the charges against Benjamin on Tuesday. Williams also noted he was not the first U.S. attorney, nor would he be the last, to announce corruption charges against a sitting elected official.
Over the past decade, more than a dozen state officials have either resigned or been removed from office in connection to claims of misconduct. The continued pattern of corruption has led good government leaders to repeatedly criticize the state for not tightening up its ethics and campaign finance oversight.
“This particular case, Brian Benjamin, was ultimately brought down by the New York City Campaign Finance Board,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog group.
On the one hand, Kaehny said, that’s a sign that the system is working and that independent anti-corruption enforcement can make a difference. On the other hand, he said it’s a reminder from his group’s perspective that the state failed once again to create a new ethics commission with teeth in the latest budget.
Despite an early pledge from Gov. Kathy Hochul to make ethics reform a top priority, the version that made it into the final budget agreement replaces the oft-maligned Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, with another: the Independent Commission on Ethics and Lobbying that will still be comprised of appointees picked by state lawmakers. Deans from the state’s top law schools will be responsible for vetting the nominees.
“Powerful interest groups do not want change,” Kaehny said. “They would rather have the rogues they know than a different system.”
Here are the officials who have left office facing official misconduct charges since 2012:
During a bid for New York City Comptroller in 2021, The City reported on irregularities in his fundraising, including donors who were listed on records with the New York City Campaign Finance Board where officials said they did not know the candidate. Benjamin pled not guilty to the five-count bribery scheme, but still stepped down from his position as the state’s number two. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
The former governor resigned from office last August, one week after State Attorney General Letitia James issued her office’s report on the investigation into sexual misconduct allegations from 11 different women. In the days leading up to his resignation, Assembly Judiciary Chair Charles Lavine outlined the process the chamber would take were there to be an impeachment proceeding.
A report later released by the Assembly after Cuomo left office found that in addition to sexually harassing multiple women, he made improper use of state resources when writing his book about leadership and withheld data related to people who died in nursing homes in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2019 & 2020
Downstate officials kept out of trouble during 2019 and 2020. It was a year after the dissolution of the controversial Independent Democratic Conference – a group of eight breakaway Democrats led by then-state Sen. Jeff Klein who caucused with Republicans – after the majority of the members were defeated by primary challengers.
A Brooklyn Democrat, Harris resigned in April of that year three months after she was charged for a series of schemes. That included filing numerous false claims over a two-year period to obtain a total of $25,000 in FEMA funds earmarked for victims of Superstorm Sandy, according to prosecutors. She was also charged with misappropriating New York City Council funds intended for a Coney Island nonprofit. She was sentenced to six months in prison in October that year.
The once well-respected former New York attorney general resigned the same day a New Yorker magazine article outlined incidents of physical and mental abuse on several women he dated. Lawmakers instantly called for his resignation.
2016 & 2017
These two years were largely quiet in the New York City region as elected officials were processing the downfall of two high-ranking officials in state government.
One of the most powerful and long-serving Assembly speakers, Silver resigned from office after he was accused of accepting some $800,000 in secret referral fees from real estate developers seeking tax breaks from the state. Silver, according to prosecutors, directed the developers to the law firm he was connected with, taking 25% of the legal fees for doing no legal work.
In another elaborate scheme, prosecutors said Silver made $3.9 million in referral fees for legal work he never performed by convincing a Columbia University medical doctor to direct patients exposed to asbestos to the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg. In exchange, the Lower East Side Democrat directed $500,000 in state grants to the doctor. After a years-long legal court battle, Silver was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in federal prison. He was compassionately released and died on Jan. 24, 2022.
A Republican and powerful Senate majority leader at the time, Skelos was hit with bribery, extortion and corruption charges after prosecutors said he used his position to get his son Adam several no-show jobs totaling $300,000 from companies seeking to do business before the state. Skelos threatened to kill several bills the company executives were seeking to have passed if they didn’t do what he asked, according to federal prosecutors. Skelos resigned shortly after he was convicted in 2015. He won on appeal, was retried and eventually found guilty again in 2018.
Sampson was ejected from the state Senate after he was convicted for obstruction of justice and lying to federal prosecutors. The charges stemmed from a case where Sampson was accused of stealing $400,000 in foreclosure sales he conducted as a court-appointed referee. Sampson, a Democrat who once served as majority leader, represented Brooklyn and was closely tied with then-state Senator Eric Adams. He was sentenced to five years in 2017.
William Boyland Jr.
Part of a political dynasty stretching back decades, Boyland Jr. was convicted on bribery charges he was hit with in 2011. Prosecutors said at the time Boyland Jr., who represented Brooklyn’s 55th Assembly District, used his position to repeatedly ask for bribes from two undercover FBI agents posing as businesses in exchange for access to other elected officials. At one point, Boyland Jr. had asked the agents for $250,000. Boyland Jr. served six years in prison before being released on compassionate grounds in 2021.
First elected to the Assembly in 1994, Scarborough was resigned after admitting to collecting over $54,000 in reimbursements from the state after handing in fake business expenses. The New York Times reported Scarborough – a Democrat who represented parts of Queens –was experiencing financial difficulties and “was angry that lawmakers, who earn a base salary of $79,500, had not received a salary increase since 1999.”
Rosa resigned from Manhattan’s 72nd Assembly District post in 2014 after federal prosecutors found she made false statements on her immigration form. Rosa immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, later paying a man $8,000 to enter into a false marriage, according to prosecutors.
Once the second-highest ranking Republican, Libous was removed from the state Senate after a jury found him guilty of perjury. Federal investigators accused Libous of using his clout to get his son a job at a law firm in exchange for steering clients the firm’s way. He was sentenced in July 2015. He died on May 3, 2016 after a five-year bout with cancer.
Once the Senate majority leader representing parts of Queens, Smith was convicted on federal bribery charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office determined Smith, with help from former City Councilman Dan Halloran and other past party leaders, attempted to bribe his way onto the Republican ticket for mayor in 2013. He did so by trying to obtain funds from two developers, one of whom was actually an undercover FBI agent. Smith in return would direct transportation monies for a project in Rockland County, prosecutors said. He was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2015. Unlike most elected officials who resigned after being criminally charged with a crime, Smith stayed until he was defeated in the 2014 primary by Leroy Comrie.
Stevenson, a Democrat, was expelled from the Assembly after federal prosecutors accused him of taking more than $20,000 in bribes to assist developers in opening adult day care centers in the Bronx. A federal jury later convicted him. Stevenson’s downfall was partly due to his former Assembly colleague, Nelson Castro, who was found to have been recording conversations with the developers tied to the case.
Castro resigned in April 2013 as the Assemblymember for the 86th Assembly District in the Bronx as part of a deal with prosecutors to avoid jail time on low-level perjury charges related to a voter fraud case. Castro, a Democrat, was also spared jail for his cooperation as an FBI informant in the case against Stevenson.
The late Democrat from Brooklyn was well-regarded in the halls of the Assembly until multiple investigations found he sexually harassed two women. Lopez clung on to his 53rd Assembly District seat, even winning re-election in 2012, but he ultimately resigned after calls for his ouster mounted. On top of relinquishing his seat, Lopez also stepped down as chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. He died on Nov. 10, 2015.
A former state senator representing Queens, Huntley confessed to stealing more than $87,000 in taxpayer-money intended for a charity she founded, the Parents Information Network. Huntley’s case was the talk of Albany after prosecutors determined Huntley secretly recorded her conversations with various state lawmakers.
The former Democratic state senator from Queens was expelled from office in 2010 after he was charged with beating his then-girlfriend inside a year before. Two years later, Monserrate pled guilty to corruption charges stemming from his previous time as a New York City Councilmember and was sentenced to two years in prison in December 2012. Prosecutors found he inappropriately used Council funds for his political campaign by steering it to a nonprofit.
The disgraced former Senate majority leader from the Bronx was expelled from office in 2010 after he was indicted on federal tax evasion and embezzlement. But in 2012, a jury found Espada guilty of those charges. For a brief moment, Espada wielded clout in the state Senate, joining a group of Hispanic legislators dubbed the “four amigos.”
A Republican who represented Yonkers in Westchester County in the state Legislature for nearly 30 years, Spano pleaded guilty to underpaying his taxes for consulting work and for not claiming other sources of income. He was sentenced to a year and a day in jail in June 2012.