Lawyers working with city comptroller candidate Brian Benjamin informed the city Campaign Finance Board Tuesday that his campaign will relinquish nearly two dozen contributions, after multiple named donors told THE CITY they never gave money.
The three named donors who said they had never heard of Benjamin, currently a state senator representing Harlem, were all employed by a single security firm, THE CITY has learned.
Vito Pitta, a lawyer representing Benjamin’s campaign, pledged a check of $5,750 to the New York City Election Campaign Finance Fund. That sum reflects 23 contributions of $250 each, all made via money order in November 2019 and brought to the Benjamin 2021 campaign treasury by a single intermediary.
“Based upon counsel’s further investigation…as well as upon information reported in the January 4, 2021 article in The City, the Committee has determined that it will not retain these contributions,” Pitta wrote to the CFB’s auditing and accounting director.
The Benjamin campaign had sought nearly $17,000 from that taxpayer-sponsored fund based on those 23 donations, under a program that matches a portion of some contributions from New York City residents eightfold.
One of the 23 donations was registered under the name of a then-2-year-old who is a grandson of Harlem real estate figure Jerry Migdol. An associate of Migdol’s, Michael Murphy, brought in all the donations that the campaign now vows to return, records show.
“Mr. Murphy is a well known and respected figure in the Harlem community and as such is known to the candidate,” Pitta wrote.
“Because of Mr. Murphy’s reputation and affiliation with Friends of Public School Harlem, Inc., the Committee…did not have occasion to question the provenance or legitimacy of the intermediated contributions.”
Murphy did not respond to requests for comment.
A Campaign Finance Board spokesperson said that while a refund may be made to either contributors or the Campaign Finance Fund, the board would continue its routine audits of receipts.
“The CFB’s auditing process will continue throughout the 2021 election cycle for all candidates in order to protect the public’s investment in our elections,” said the spokesperson, Matt Sollars.
The three donors contacted by THE CITY who denied ever contributing to or even knowing of Benjamin were employed by a security firm called Prime Protective Bureau or PPB.
Also among the Murphy-directed $250 donations Benjamin’s campaign now pledges to return came from a PPB manager named Rashaun Dudley, who acknowledges making a contribution. His employer is listed as “student” in the records the Benjamin 2021 campaign submitted to the CFB.
PPB’s founder and CEO, Terry English, made a $100 money order contribution to Benjamin in July 2020, as did his wife, Sharon Doldron. A third, $250 money order donation to Benjamin is on record in the name of “English Terry,” dated Nov. 8, 2019 — coinciding with the start of the donations pooled by Murphy.
None of those three donations are among the 23 the campaign says it will be relinquishing to the Campaign Finance Board.
Benjamin 2021 is seeking $800 in public matching funds on each of those three contributions, relying on New York City addresses for English and Doldron.
Public records — including those submitted to the CFB by other New York City campaigns — indicate that English and Doldron reside in New Jersey, where they are registered to vote and own a home.
English and Doldron could not be reached for comment. There is no indication either was aware of the employee donations.
Agnissan Achi, a former PPB security guard who told THE CITY he was too poor to give $250 to a candidate and did not donate, says he cannot fathom how the Benjamin campaign would have obtained his name and mailing address without some assistance from the employer.
“The person who has access to all my information is Prime Protective,” said Achi.
He welcomed the news that the campaign is relinquishing the $250 given in his name without his permission. Achi added he doesn’t blame Benjamin’s campaign but rather those who provided his personal information.
“Why should the campaign people apologize to me?” he asked. “If they want to come maybe to court when I file my complaint, then I’ll see them.”