Bribery and fraud allegations against former New York Lt. gov. Brian Benjamin was dismissed by a federal judge on Monday, leaving Benjamin facing only charges of tampering, leading his attorneys to say it was tragic the case was ever brought up.
Judge J. Paul Oetken said in a written opinion prosecutors had not alleged an explicit instance in which Benjamin performed a favor for a bribe, a key element of the bribery and honest service charge.
Benjamin, a Democrat, resigned after his arrest last April. He pleaded not guilty to charges that he received campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for his influence to receive a $50,000 grant in government funds to a nonprofit organization the developer controlled.
Benjamin’s arrest had sparked a political crisis for Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who chose him as her deputy when she became governor, following a sexual harassment scandal that ousted her predecessor, Democrat Andrew Cuomo.
At the time of his arrest, Benjamin’s lawyers had issued a statement saying they wanted to show the courts that their client’s actions were commendable and not a crime.
On Monday, attorneys Barry Berke and Dani James said in a statement that the ruling “shows how these unjustified allegations have so harmed Mr Benjamin and unjustly cost him his position as Lieutenant Governor”.
“Although today is a great day for justice, democracy and the rule of law, it is tragic that this case was ever brought and such a decision was necessary,” they said.
“We have said from the outset that we are shocked and dismayed that prosecutors would bring such flimsy and unjustified charges based on nothing more than the routine fundraising and support of a nonprofit organization that provides the necessary resources for Harlem public schools.” provides,” the attorneys said.
They wrote that Benjamin was “grateful for his justification and looks forward to new opportunities to serve the people of New York and his community in Harlem.”
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office declined to comment.
Benjamin was the state’s second black lieutenant governor. During his career as a state MP, which began in May 2017, he emphasized criminal justice reform and affordable housing. His district included most of central Harlem, where he was born and raised to Caribbean immigrant parents.
In dismissing the first three charges in a five-count indictment, the judge wrote that appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have made it clear that proof of a promise is required to support criminal charges when campaign payments are made contributions are made.
The judge said he also agrees with a separate defense argument that the facts alleged in the indictment, even if true, do not create criminal liability. He noted that the government’s timeline shows that by the time Benjamin raised the $50,000 in government funds, there was no agreement between Benjamin and the developer.
The charges left intact state that Benjamin knowingly made a false entry in a file to prevent an investigation.