NEW YORK – A federal judge on Monday dismissed bribery and fraud charges against former New York lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin, leaving him alone with charges of falsifying records.
Judge J. Paul Oetken said in a written opinion that prosecutors did not allege a clear instance in which Benjamin provided a favor in exchange for a bribe, an essential element of the bribery and honest services fraud charges.
Benjamin, a Democrat, resigned following his arrest last April. He has pleaded not guilty to allegations that he received campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for his influence to obtain $50,000 in state funds for a non-profit organization controlled by the developer.
Benjamin’s arrest sparked a political crisis for Gov. Cathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat who tapped her to serve as her second-in-command when she became governor after a sexual assault scandal that overshadowed her. Predecessor Democrat Andrew Cuomo was ousted.
At the time of his arrest, Benjamin’s attorneys released a statement saying they planned to demonstrate to the courts that their client’s actions were commendable and not crimes.
His lawyers had no immediate comment Monday.
A spokesman for prosecutors declined to comment.
Benjamin was the state’s second black lieutenant governor. During a race in the state legislature in May 2017, he pushed for criminal justice reform and affordable housing. His district included most of downtown Harlem, where he was born and raised by Caribbean immigrant parents.
Dismissing the first three counts in the five-count indictment, the judge wrote that appeals courts, including the US Supreme Court,
The judge said he also agreed with a separate defense argument that the facts alleged in the indictment, even if true, do not establish criminal liability. He said the government’s timeline of events showed that there was no agreement between Benjamin and the developer at the time Benjamin received $50,000 in state funds.
Allegations have been upheld that Benjamin knowingly made a false entry in a registry with intent to prevent an investigation.