In the fall of 2016, Stephanie Delpe was an insurance executive mingling at a networking event at a Newark hotel when a handsome man approached her.
“He looked expensive,” Delpe told The Post. “He told me, ‘I just flew into Teterboro,’” the exclusive New Jersey airport used by private planes.
The man introduced himself as William Benson and regaled Delpe with tales of his life as a wealthy entrepreneur who’d founded his own brand of champagne, Billionaires Row. He also said he ran an investment fund and had once worked at Goldman Sachs.
Within weeks, Delpe found herself in a whirlwind romance with the charming, well-dressed businessman, who regularly highlights his friendship with Mayor Eric Adams on social media.
But now Delpe and several others have revealed to The Post that they were duped out of money by Benson, 39, and claim that he drops the mayor’s name to appear impressive.
“He wooed me out of my savings,” Delpe told The Post. “That’s what happened.”
At first, she had no reason to doubt Benson’s story, particularly after checking out his social media presence, where Benson advertises his ties to celebs: Ja Rule and Gayle King, the Kardashians, Hillary Clinton. Even today, Benson boasts a boldface cast on his Instagram page — and one of the people he features most prominently is Mayor Adams.
Over the year that Delpe and Benson dated, they enjoyed dinners at flashy Big Apple restaurants like Tao and once flew to Texas on a private jet.
In January 2017, she said, Benson asked her to invest in his champagne company.
“He showed me these videos of him in the vineyard in France meeting with business partners,” she recalled. “He sent me pictures of bottles on the shelf in different places.”
At one point, Benson took her to a promotional shoot for Billionaires Row at a ritzy hotel near Columbus Circle, where the couple spent the night, she said.
“He told me, ‘You’re so intelligent. You should be doing things for yourself and invest your money for profit.’ It was really exciting and I thought we were doing something together.”
What Delpe didn’t know was that Benson had allegedly made similar offers to others, including his now estranged wife Danni Benson — who told The Post she gave him $500,000, starting in 2010, to launch Billionaires Row. The pair are currently in divorce proceedings. Asked if she ever saw a return on her investment, Danni would only say she had no involvement in the day-to-day inner workings of the brand.
In an email to The Post, Benson’s publicist Jane Owen said Danni was never granted any ownership documents in Billionaires Row. She also said Benson “founded” and “funded” a business with Delpe, but did not address any of Delpe’s specific allegations about her investments in the champagne brand.
Meanwhile, Delpe and eight others — a former business partner, an investor, the CEO of a wine importing and exporting company, two businessmen, another former girlfriend and two entrepreneurs — all claimed to The Post that they were duped by Benson, who has misrepresented his work experience according to a review of those claims by The Post.
“He promised me big things and delivered nothing,” said Louisville real estate investor Joseph Clarke, who met Benson in 2014 through a childhood friend. Clarke said he gave Benson $15,000 — money from a wrongful death settlement after his 2-year-old son fell out of a window in 2009 — to act as a development consultant on a property in Honduras.
“I hired him as a consultant to get investors,” Clarke said. “He never got any investors, but he kept asking me for more and more money.”
The project never got beyond a press release.
Owen confirmed that Benson was paid $15,000 as a consultant by Clarke, but “ultimately Joseph was not able to fund the project.”
“The wild part is that he creates these relationships just enough to make you believe them. That’s his magic,” Clarke said.
Meanwhile, Benson has been busy hyping his friendship with Mayor Adams.
In November 2022, Benson posted a screenshot on his Instagram Stories showing him FaceTiming with Hizzoner with the caption: “Just two ‘Goats’ trying to change the world.”
In October, Benson announced the formation of BR Electric, which claimed on its website to retrofit gas-powered vehicles into electric ones and listed “NYC, Office of the Mayor” as a project partner.
A rep for Adams told The Post in a statement that “neither the Mayor’s Office, nor any other city agency, has any partnership with BR Electric or William Benson,” and added that BR Electric was sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding the company remove the association. The site no longer lists Adams as a partner.
Owen stated that Benson met Adams around 2018 “through a mutual friend.” As Adams’ fortunes rose after he won the mayoral election in 2021, so did Benson’s.
“That’s William’s credibility,” Danni told The Post. “He says, ‘I know the mayor.’ He uses him to his advantage.”
Photos on his Instagram page show Benson kissing Adams’ head on a night out at Casa Cipriani in July, and Adams, when he was Brooklyn Borough President, giving Benson a citation award for Billionaires Row in 2021.
After Adams was elected mayor, Benson toasted his friend in a video posted to Youtube, telling him, “I just want to say I love you. Cheers to the next mayor of New York City.”
In August, when a New York Times piece detailed Adams’ penchant for clubbing and hanging out with “tarnished” nightlife brothers Robert and Zhan Petrosyants, Benson defended his pal to the outlet.
“The players come out at night, the money guys, the bankers, the athletes, it makes sense for the mayor to go and rub shoulders and build relationships,” Benson told The Times. “Those conversations don’t start from 9 to 5.”
Born in Delaware, Benson (real name Willie Lee Benson) was raised in North Carolina in a “modest household,” numerous sources told The Post. He attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for one semester, then moved to New York, where he dated the daughter of a Wall Street honcho before marrying Danni in 2012, sources told The Post.
On his website, Benson calls himself an “entrepreneur, investor, businessman, lifestylist and philanthropist.” He regularly sports a Jewish Star of David and, according to his social media, claims to hold two titles: “Doctor” and “Sir,” both awarded by Harvest Christian University Accredited Royal School outside Dallas. The school’s website it riddled with grammatical errors and typos.
Benson also did business under the name “Goldman Sachs and Benson,” according to two sources, one of whom showed documentation to The Post. In August 2019, Goldman Sachs’ lawyers sent him a cease-and-desist letter, seen by The Post, to stop using Goldman Sachs in his correspondence, his website and emails.
Owen said Benson’s LinkedIn profile does not list any affiliation with Goldman Sachs and that he did not receive the cease-and-desist letter.
The idea for Billionaires Row champagne dates back to 2011 when Benson teamed up with Constantin Zamfirescu, the CEO of a wine importing exporting business at a Hamptons restaurant.
“He told me he had millions in the bank [and] investors from Dubai — some Arabian prince and Pele — on board,” Zamfirescu told The Post. Zamfirescu said he agreed to use his own connections to register the Billionaires Row brand in the Champagne region of France and turn it into a real product.
“Sometimes I feel like I gave him the gun,” said Zamfirescu of Benson’s alleged misdeeds.
The brand debuted at the Luxury Review event at the Metropolitan Pavilion in May 2012 and was featured in the New York Times with a photo of Benson and friends in black tie. Dan Felix, another partner in the brand, said he lined up meetings with a liquor honcho who helped with national distribution as well as a deal with Flo Rida to name-drop the brand for a fee and equity in the company. (In a 2014 interview with Larry King, the rapper did just that.) But Felix alleges Benson never showed up for meetings, and the brand never grew beyond its flashy social media presence.
“We’d do these big parties, but … there was no place to buy the product,” said Felix, who cut ties with Benson in 2014.
Owen said Billionaires Row is sold at the Reserve Bar website, Total Wine’s website and select physical locations. She added that Felix never personally or professionally invested in Billionaires Row, and Benson was the one who cut ties with Felix.
“The worst part is, I got good friends involved, raising money and people came to me and wanted to invest. This thing backfired,” said Felix. “Some of the stuff he says just doesn’t compute.”
On some emails, Benson is represented by attorney David Blowitz, who fires off aggressive emails against his accusers that are filled with misspellings and grammatical errors. According to paperwork viewed by The Post, Blowitz facilitated the sale of 1% of Billionaires Row to an investor in 2014.
But The Post wasn’t able to find any public record of Blowitz.
“David Blowitz doesn’t exist,” claimed Felix, adding that he believes it’s Benson behind a Gmail account. (Owen told The Post: “David Blowitz denies this false accusation.”)
Delpe said she decided to invest in Billionaires Row after Benson told her he landed a deal with the global sports, talent and events company IMG, for his bubbly brand to sponsor New York Fashion Week’s February and September 2017 shows.
According to a lawsuit filed by IMG, the champagne company agreed to pay $200,000 and provide no less than 40 cases for each show during the two periods. The cases were sent to the February shows, but Billionaires Row paid only $45,000 of the $100,000 sponsorship fee it owed for the first half of the year, the filing states.
No champagne was sent for the September shows, and Billionaires Row still owes IMG $155,000, according to the suit.
“He asked me for somewhere between $20,000 and $40,000 — and when I said that sounded like a lot of money, he said it would be an investment. He’d double my money,” said Delpe.
According to Delpe, Benson told her would get reimbursed later for the fronted funds. She said she made withdrawals from her 401k and savings accounts and got advances on her credit cards.
“I had really good credit so I was able to access a lot of cash,” she said.
Delpe shared records of her transfers to Billionaires Row with The Post.
“Once I gave him the money, he must have thought, ‘This girl is an idiot’ — because he came back for more,” Delpe added. “He told me it wasn’t enough, and IMG was about to cancel the deal, and we didn’t want to lose the initial investment.”
Though Delpe said she received a letter outlining the agreement from Billionaires Row, she still grew concerned.
“I thought, if you have this great company and you’re making all this money, why do you need my money? Because there were times when it went beyond the investment. He’d tell me his money was tied up with the divorce proceedings.
“There was a $350 charge from a grocery store where I thought someone had stolen my credit cards. He said, ‘Well, I need to feed my family,’” said Delpe.
In October 2017, IMG sued Billionaires Row. In 2019, a judge ruled in favor of IMG, ordering Billionaires Row to pay $182,000, but according to a rep for IMG, Benson has not yet repaid the money.
Owen said Benson and his attorneys “are not aware of a suit or a judgment from IMG.”
In total, Delpe said she forked over $188,448 during her nearly year-long relationship with Benson — money she said she meticulously tracked on a spreadsheet for tax purposes and which was seen by The Post. That included tens of thousands of dollars to Billionaires Row for the Fashion Week sponsorship as well as cash Benson used to buy clothing for himself, telling Delpe he had to “look the part,” she said.
“It was kind of exciting to hop on a private jet and go places and be involved in things — that definitely appealed to me,” she said. “I didn’t realize until later on that I was funding it.”
When their relationship ended in fall of 2017, Delpe said, she asked Benson for her money back. But, she added, he balked — telling her they were in a relationship and the money was a gift. If she proceeded with a lawsuit, he threatened to inform her family members that she was involved with a married man, Delpe said.
Now, Delpe and the others are speaking to The Post in the hope they can stop Benson from moving onto another mark.
“I would hate to see this happen to someone else and know that I could have done something to stop it but didn’t,” Delpe said.