The former Lt. gov. Brian Benjamin dodged serious bribery and fraud rapes Monday when a Manhattan judge dismissed three federal charges against him.
Judge Paul Oetken ruled that prosecutors for the Southern District of New York had failed to outline the express quid pro quo for bribery, fraud with honest services and a related conspiracy charge that was included in the federal indictment against Benjamin in April.
Benjamin will face two more counts of forgery, said Oetken.
The counterfeiting allegations each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors said later Monday they will appeal Oetken’s verdict.
Benjamin, a Harlem Democrat, has been accused of accepting donations from real estate developer Gerald Migdol for his state Senate and city control campaigns in exchange for directing state funds to a nonprofit that the donor controlled.
Since charges were brought against him, Benjamin – who resigned as No. 2 to Gov. Kathy Hochul in April – has passionately pushed back on his attorneys at hearings and filings in the case.
In August, defense attorney Barry Berke accused prosecutors of wrongly prosecuting his client, calling it the “most aggressive case of political corruption ever brought by the US government.”
“Simply asking for money before or after a service, that can’t be enough,” said Berke Oetken at a hearing.
In his Monday statement, Oetken said prosecutors failed to show the necessary explicit consideration in their indictment against Benjamin, which is consistent with legal opinions from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
“The Second Circuit has stated – again specifically – that ‘evidence of an express promise is required where payments are made in the form of campaign contributions,'” Oetken wrote.
“In light of this, counts one, two and three of the indictment must be dismissed because none of the three counts state that Benjamin entered into an ‘explicit’ agreement with Migdol regarding his conduct as a state senator would be controlled against campaign contributions,” added Oetken.
The charges dropped against Benjamin — wire fraud, bribery and conspiracy — carry maximum sentences of 20 years, 10 years and five years, respectively.
Oetken said prosecutors had almost reached the threshold for the allegations when they wrote Benjamin accepted Migdol’s contributions “in exchange for” grants to his nonprofit but still fell short.
“The government insists in its objection brief that the ‘in exchange for’ language satisfies the express requirement,” Oetken wrote.
“It doesn’t,” he said.
In a statement, Benjamin’s attorneys said it was “tragic” that charges against their client were even filed.
“Today’s decision shows how these wrongful charges have harmed Mr. Benjamin so badly and wrongly cost him his position as Lieutenant Governor,” defense attorneys Barry Berke and Dani James wrote. “The rejection of this now-discredited bribery theory also makes it clear that the charges were a direct attack on the democratic process.”
But the good government group, Common Cause/NY, responded to the dropped charges against Benjamin by urging Congress and the state legislature to tighten anti-corruption laws.
“The absurd and ridiculous Supreme Court decision in McDonnell v. United States is the gift that keeps on giving to officials like Brian Benjamin and a black eye on the public’s healthy understanding of corruption,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of the group, in a statement.
Additional reporting by Zach Williams
https://nypost.com/2022/12/05/ex-lt-gov-brian-benjamin-dodges-serious-bribery-wire-fraud-raps/ Ex-Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin dodges serious bribery, raps about wire fraud