A Manhattan real estate developer was charged on Friday with conspiracy to conceal contributions from a candidate for this year’s New York Comptroller race in an attempt to secure as much public funding for the candidate as possible.
Developer Gerald Migdol arranged for dozens of donations to go to the campaign on behalf of people who had not authorized the payments, according to an indictment unsealed by federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Friday.
A contribution Mr. Migdol arranged according to prosecutors, a $ 250 warrant, was made on behalf of a minor relative, prosecutors said.
The indictment does not name the candidate Mr Migdol was seeking to help. But details of the case and publicly available information suggest it is Brian A. Benjamin, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for comptroller and is now lieutenant governor of New York.
The indictment does not indicate that the candidate was aware of the scheme.
Mr Migdol, 71, was arrested Friday morning on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, officials said. He pleaded not guilty in Manhattan Federal District Court on Friday and was released on bail. Charges of wire fraud carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
“Free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy, and campaign finance regulations are a way for communities to ensure that everyone follows the same rules,” said Damian Williams, the lawyer. of the Southern District of New York, in a statement.
Reached by phone after Mr. Migdol’s arraignment, Joel Cohen, his lawyer, said his client had pleaded not guilty “and it is appropriate.”
“That says what we have to say,” Mr. Cohen added.
A man who answered the phone for Mr. Migdol’s family real estate company, the Migdol Organization, declined to comment. The Harlem-based company owns and operates residential properties in New York City.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr. Benjamin’s comptroller campaign said that “neither Lieutenant Governor Benjamin nor his campaign is accused of wrongdoing and they are ready to cooperate fully with the authorities.”
The spokesperson added that “as soon as the campaign discovered that these contributions were from inappropriate sources, they donated them to the campaign’s fundraising committee.”
Governor Kathy Hochul’s office referred all questions to Mr. Benjamin’s campaign. Ms Hochul chose Mr Benjamin as lieutenant governor in August after taking over from Andrew M. Cuomo.
Mr Migdol’s family has long supported Democratic candidates, according to the Migdol Organization’s website, which includes photos of family members with Mr Benjamin and other politicians.
Several members of the Migdol family, including Gerald Migdol, have contributed to Mr. Benjamin’s campaign under their own names, according to campaign fundraising records.
The contributions at issue in the case against Mr. Migdol, according to the indictment, were aimed at enabling the candidate’s campaign to qualify for matching public funds through the city’s campaign finance system, unlocking potentially tens of thousands of dollars in extra money. The program ran from November 2019 to January 2021, according to the indictment.
Some of the contributions mentioned in the indictment were made to the campaign by a person led by Migdol, prosecutors said. The indictment does not name the person, who is only identified as CC-1. The indictment also cites other anonymous “co-conspirators”.
Mr Migdol, prosecutors said, explained the program in a message to Anonymous People in July 2020, describing how the city’s public funding system could increase their contributions eight-fold.
“We’re getting 8xl for $ 100 money orders,” the post said, according to the indictment. “For the $ 250 money orders = 8 x 1 for the first $ 100 and the other $ 150 do not match.” So an MO for $ 250 is worth $ 950 for [Candidate-1]. Hopefully our next city controller.
A biography of Mr. Migdol on his company’s website indicates that he has been involved in the real estate industry in New York for over 40 years, primarily in Harlem and the Bronx.
Mr Migdol told the New York Post in 2006 that he started buying Brown Stones in Harlem in the early 2000s, when they were selling for several hundred thousand dollars, far less than the prices such buildings can reach today.
In October 2019, Mr. Migdol received a Community Leadership Award in Harlem which describes him as “a true legend of Harlem”. He said in his acceptance speech that Mr. Benjamin nominated him for the award.
“I am grateful to my new friend – our great State Senator Brian Benjamin,” Migdol said in the speech, which his company posted on its website. “At first glance, my appointment wouldn’t normally be a popular choice. He then said, but for the fact that what you are doing here deserves to be honored.
Mr Benjamin, a former Harlem state senator, placed fourth in the Democratic primary for the comptroller’s post, well behind winner Brad Lander, a member of Brooklyn City Council.
Many details of the indictment were first reported in January by news site The City, including the fact that several people whose names were on Mr Benjamin’s campaign donations said that they had not made the payments.
A donation reported by the City was a contribution of $ 250 made on behalf of Mr. Migdol’s 2 year old grandson.
Jefferson Siegel contributed reporting.