Court records show that a Hurley man active in local Republican politics racked up a string of bad debts before his arrest earlier this month on grand larceny and forgery charges stemming from an alleged phony investment scam.
John C. Benkert, 48, was arrested an April 2 and charged with felony counts of grand larceny, forgery and possession of a forged instrument. State police say Benkert bilked his victims by obtaining loans which he falsely claimed would finance a business venture. The scheme, police said, netted a total of at least $360,000.
Troopers have declined to give details about the alleged scam, or the alleged victims. But State Supreme Court records show that last year Benkert, who once headed Kingston’s Republican Committee and was active in County Court Judge Don Williams 2009 campaign, was hit with successive lawsuits from banks, credit card companies and individuals seeking repayment of loans. The legal action reached a crescendo in February when a court ordered Benkert to repay a $250,000 promissory note the same month that a bank foreclosed on his home.
Benkert’s trail of civil legal troubles dates back to at least 2006 when he was sued by his brother Paul Benkert for violating a non-compete clause in a contract under which John Benkert turned over his interest in AllWays Moving and Storage in exchange for $2,050,000. That case was settled out of court in 2009. In 2010, Benkert took a series of personal loans from individuals and, by 2011, was facing civil court action for nonpayment. According to court records, in January 2010 court Benkert obtained a $10,000 90-day loan from one Richard Croce, a New Paltz businessman who headed up Williams’ campaign committee. In April 2010 Benkert borrowed $50,000 from a Saugerties contractor with a promise to repay the loan with 15 percent interest. The same month, Benkert took a $25,000 loan from a Kingston-based contractor at the same 15 percent interest rate. In February 2011, Croce won a judgment in state Supreme Court seeking repayment of the loan plus interest and court fees, a total of $11,000. That same month, Benkert entered into a settlement with Chase Bank to make good on $21,882 in unpaid bills on a business credit card.
Benkert’s fiscal crisis escalated in May when a mortgage company filed for foreclosure on Benkert’s property at 139 Jeffrey Lane in Hurley. According to bank records, Benkert bought the home in March 2007 with a $640,000 mortgage. Croce, along with one Jean Benkert and Jeff Lowe Heating, Plumbing and Air Conditioning are named as co-defendants in the foreclosure action. One month later, in June 2011, court records show that Benkert obtained the $250,000 promissory note from a Kingston woman.
By late 2011 and early 2012, Benkert was swamped with civil judgments. On Nov. 15 the two contractors both won judgments against Benkert for a total of $98,576. In December, Benkert was hit with another judgment after, court records show, he failed to answer a summons regarding an $11,084 debt on another business credit card. Around this time, Benkert’s mounting civil entanglements apparently drew the attention of state police, who said they spent five months investigating the case before making an arrest in April. In February, a court approved the foreclosure on the Jeffrey Lane property and another State Supreme Court judgment found Benkert liable for the $250,000 promissory note. According to a complaint contained in the court file, the woman who lent the money in June, demanded repayment in October and was refused.
The court records make no mention of the purpose of the loans. Nor do they mention two companies, Black Pearl Associates LLC and Whole Health Growers LLC, owned by Benkert. But the total cost of the civil judgments won by the four plaintiffs between February 2011 and February 2012 total $358,576, just shy of what state police claim Benkert stole in the phony investment scheme. Benkert remains free on $5,000 bail. State police, meanwhile, are looking for other potential victims of the alleged fraud. Anyone with information is asked to call state police investigator Joseph Auriemma at (845) 338-1702.
SIDEBAR: Carnright’s campaign coordinator: Benkert didn’t work with us
A former staffer on the 2011 re-election campaign of District Attorney Holley Carnright is disputing Town of Ulster Supervisor Jim Quigley’s claim that accused con-man John Benkert was active in the campaign. Quigley’s claim was included in a previous article on Benkert’s arrest.
“As the campaign coordinator for the district attorney’s race, I worked with all of our volunteers and committee chairs,” said Carnright volunteer Diana Spada. “I can state with the utmost certainty that neither Mr. Quigley nor Mr. Benkert had anything to do with our campaign at any time.”
Carnright has also said that he also has no recollection of Benkert working on the campaign.