Former New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin was cleared of bribery and fraud charges in federal court Monday (Dec. 5). He still faces records falsification charges, although his lawyers say it was “tragic” that Benjamin was even charged.
CBS News reports that Judge J. Paul Oetken ruled prosecutors failed to demonstrate that Benjamin ever provided any favor in exchange for a bribe -- a key element of bribery and honest services fraud charges.
Benjamin, a Democrat, and the state's second Black lieutenant governor, resigned following his arrest in April. He pleaded not guilty to charges that he received campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for his influence in obtaining a $50,000 state grant for a nonprofit organization controlled by the developer.
RELATED: New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin Arrested On Corruption Charges Related To Campaign Contributions
When Benjamin was arrested, his lawyers issued a statement saying they planned to show the courts that their client's actions were in the service of his constituents and were in no way criminal.
Attorneys representing Benjamin said the ruling "shows how these wrongful charges so harmed Mr. Benjamin and unfairly cost him his position as Lt. Governor."
The statement continued, "From the very beginning, we said we are shocked and dismayed that the prosecution would bring such flimsy and unwarranted charges based on nothing more than routine fundraising and support of a non-profit providing needed resources to Harlem public schools," they said and promised that Benjamin will get back to serving his Harlem community and New York State.
The judge pointed to case law and U.S. Supreme Court precedent to make clear that proof of a promise was necessary to support criminal charges when payments are made as campaign contributions. Thus, the first three charges of the five-count indictment were thrown out.
The judge agreed with the defense that even if the facts alleged in the indictment were true, they were not criminal because there was no agreement between Benjamin and the developer when Benjamin procured the $50,000 in state funding. The remaining charges allege that Benjamin knowingly made a false entry in a record with the intent to impede an investigation.