Corruption Charges Dismissed Against Ex-Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin
A federal judge in Manhattan dismissed bribery and corruption charges against former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin of New York on Monday, saying prosecutors had failed to demonstrate an explicit quid pro quo in what they had asserted was a scheme to funnel $50,000 in state money to a developer in exchange for campaign contributions.
“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 judge, J. Paul Oetken of Federal District Court, ruled.
He said he would toss out the three corruption counts that prompted Mr. Benjamin, a Democrat, to resign from office when they were announced in April. But Mr. Benjamin still faces trial on two other counts — charges that he falsified records, including a vetting questionnaire related to his appointment as lieutenant governor — that the judge allowed to stand.
The ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court continues to narrow the laws governing corruption, making it harder for federal prosecutors to successfully bring such cases. Just last week, the court seemed poised to impose further limits after hearing arguments in a pair of cases from New York involving officials who had served under former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, including Joseph Percoco, who had been one of his top advisers.
A lawyer for Mr. Benjamin did not immediately comment on the decision; Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.
The indictment caused significant political fallout in Albany and New York City earlier this year. Gov. Kathy Hochul encouraged Mr. Benjamin to resign hours after he surrendered to the authorities and prosecutors unsealed the charges, which stemmed from his time as a state senator.
Though the governor was not implicated in the case, the cloud of scandal it created lingered over her re-election campaign for months. Finding a replacement for Mr. Benjamin as lieutenant governor also set off a chain of events that some Democrats believe cost them a crucial Hudson Valley congressional seat.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Hochul declined to comment.
Mr. Benjamin had been a rising star in New York politics, with an enviable résumé and growing cachet in Albany before his downfall. Though Monday’s opinion is a victory for him, the remaining charges are still likely to proceed, leaving the Democrat without a clear or immediate path back into elected office.
Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed reporting.