A federal judge dismissed bribery charges against former Lieutenant Governor Brain Benjamin on Monday morning that were brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) and led him to resign from his post in April.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Oetken concluded SDNY’s indictment “fails to allege an explicit quid pro quo.”
“For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that the Indictment fails to allege an explicit quid pro quo, which is an essential element of the bribery and honest services wire fraud charges brought against Benjamin,” the ruling read. “As a result, Defendant’s motion to dismiss is granted as to the first three counts.”
According to a report in The New York Times, Benjamin’s lawyers Barry Berke and Dani James said the decision is “vindication” for charges that weren’t justified.
“The dismissal of this now discredited bribery theory also makes clear how the indictment was a direct assault on the democratic process,” they said. “While 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.”
The dismissed charges alleged that Benjamin, during his years as a state Senator representing Harlem, directed $50,000 in state funds to a nonprofit organization controlled by a real estate developer – Gerald Migdol – in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in donations to his failed bid for city Comptroller and his state Senate reelection campaign.
“This is a simple story of corruption,” U.S. Attorney for SDNY Damian Williams said at the time. “We allege that Benjamin struck a corrupt bargain with a real estate developer. Taxpayer money for campaign contributions. Quid pro quo. This for that. That’s bribery, plain and simple.”
Oetken, however, did allow two falsification-of-records charges against Benjamin to stand. Those charges alleged Benjamin lied repeatedly to cover up his alleged bribery scheme – which included falsifying campaign forms, misleading city regulators and lying on vetting documents he had to fill out before becoming lieutenant governor.
Governor Kathy Hochul had appointed Benjamin lieutenant governor not long after she took over for ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo, once he stepped down following multiple accusations of sexual harassment. Benjamin served in the role for about seven months.
Benjamin was on Hochul’s reelection ticket until his sudden resignation, when she swiftly worked with the state legislature to have him removed from the ballot and replaced with her current lieutenant Antonio Delgado, whom she won the general election with last month.
The governor’s office declined to comment when contacted by amNewYork Metro.