On Friday, a Manhattan-based real estate developer was charged with conspiracy to conceal contributions to a candidate in New York City’s race of controllers this year to get as much government funding as possible for the candidate.
According to an indictment released Friday by the Manhattan federal attorney’s office, the developer, Gerald Migdol, orchestrated dozens of campaign donations on behalf of people who did not authorize payments.
Prosecutors said one contribution that Mr Migdol organized, a $ 250 remittance transfer, was made in the name of a minor relative.
The indictment does not mention the candidate whom Mr. Migdol tried to help. But the details of the case and publicly available information suggest that this is Brian A. Benjamin, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the post of controller and is now Deputy Governor of New York.
The indictment does not indicate that the candidate was aware of the scheme.
Mr Migdol, 71, was arrested early Friday on charges of electronic fraud, conspiracy to commit electronic fraud and aggravated identity theft, officials said. He pleaded not guilty to charges Friday in Manhattan Federal District Court and was released on bail. The maximum penalty for electronic fraud is 20 years in prison.
“Free and fair elections are the backbone of our democracy, and campaign finance rules are one way communities seek to ensure that everyone plays by the same rules,” Southern District of New York Attorney Damian said in a statement. Williams.
After charging Mr. Migdol by telephone, Joel Coen, his attorney, said his client pleaded not guilty, “and it is appropriate.”
“That tells us what we need to say,” added Mr. Cohen.
A man who answered a call at Mr. Migdol’s family real estate company, the Migdol Organization, declined to comment. The Harlem-based company owns and operates residential properties throughout New York City.
In a statement, a spokesman for Mr Benjamin’s control campaign said that “Lieutenant Governor Benjamin and his campaign are not accused of any wrongdoing and are willing to cooperate fully with the authorities.”
The spokesperson added that “as soon as the campaign discovered that these donations had come from inappropriate sources, they donated to their campaign finance board.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office has directed all questions to Mr. Benjamin’s campaign. Ms Hochul selected Mr Benjamin as Lieutenant Governor in August after she succeeded Andrew M. Cuomo.
Mr. Migdol’s family has long supported the Democratic candidates, according to the Migdol organization’s website, which features pictures of family members with Mr. Benjamin and other politicians.
Several members of Migdol’s family, including Gerald Migdol, participated in Mr. Benjamin’s campaign under their own names, the campaign’s financial statements show.
The contributions in question in the case against Mr Migdol, the indictment says, were intended to allow the candidate’s campaign to qualify for public funds through the city’s campaign finance system, potentially opening up tens of thousands of dollars in additional money. The scheme operated from November 2019 to January 2021, according to the indictment.
The prosecutor’s office said that some of the fees mentioned in the indictment were contributed to the campaign by a person at the direction of Mr. Migdol. The indictment does not indicate the name of the person identified only as UK-1. The indictment also mentions other unnamed “accomplices.”
Prosecutors said Mr Migdol explained the scheme in a message to unnamed people in July 2020, describing how the city’s public funding system could increase their contributions eightfold.
“We get 8xl for $ 100 remittances,” the statement said, according to the indictment. “For $ 250 remittances = 8×1 for the first $ 100 and the remaining $ 150 is not the same. So a $ 250 MO costs $ 950 for [Candidate-1]… Hopefully our next city controller. “
The biography of Mr. Migdol on his company website states that he has been in real estate in New York for over 40 years, mainly in Harlem and the Bronx.
Mr Migdol told The New York Post in 2006 that he began buying brown stones in Harlem in the early 2000s, when they sold for several hundred thousand dollars, far less than the prices of such buildings today.
In October 2019, Mr. Migdol received the Community Leadership Award in Harlem, in which he is named “The True Legend of Harlem”. In his acceptance speech, he said that Mr. Benjamin had nominated him for the award.
“I am grateful to my new friend, our great State Senator Brian Benjamin,” said Mr. Migdol in a speech that his company posted on its website. “On the surface, my nomination would normally not be a popular choice. Then he said, but what you guys are doing here is worthy of respect. “
Mr. Benjamin, a former state senator from Harlem, finished fourth in the Democratic primary as Controller, well behind winner Brad Lander, a Brooklyn-based city councilor.
Many of the indictment details were first released in January on the City news website, including that several individuals named in donations to Mr. Benjamin’s campaign said they did not make payments.
One of the donations reported by The City was a $ 250 donation on behalf of Mr. Migdol’s two-year-old grandson.
Jefferson Siegel produced reports.