Brian Benjamin was tossed out Monday by a federal judge, leaving Benjamin to face only records falsification charges and prompting his lawyers to say that it was tragic that the case was ever brought forward.
Judge J. Paul Oetken said in a written opinion that prosecutors failed to allege an explicit example in which Benjamin provided a favor for a bribe, an essential element of bribery and honest services fraud charges.
Benjamin, a Democrat, resigned after his arrest in April. He pleaded not guilty to charges of obtaining campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for his influence to get a $50,000 grant of state funds for a nonprofit organization that the developer controlled.
Benjamin's arrest had caused a political crisis for the governor. Kathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat who chose to serve as second in command when she became governor after a sexual harassment scandal that led to the resignation of her predecessor, Democrat Andrew Cuomo.
At the time of his arrest, Benjamin's lawyers had issued a statement saying they planned to show the courts that their client's actions were laudable rather than a crime.
On Monday, attorneys Barry Berke and Dani James said in a statement that the ruling shows how these wrongful charges have harmed Mr. Benjamin and unfairly cost him his position as Lt. Today is a great day for justice, democracy, and the rule of law, but it is tragic that this case was ever brought and such a decision was necessary, they said.
The attorneys said that they were shocked and dismayed by the prosecution's decision to bring such flimsy and unwarranted charges based on routine fundraising and support of a non-profit providing needed resources to Harlem public schools.
They wrote that Benjamin was thankful for his vindication and he looks forward to new opportunities to serve the people of New York and his Harlem community. Benjamin was the state's second black lieutenant governor. During his state legislative career in May 2017 he emphasised criminal justice reform and affordable housing. His district included most of Central Harlem, where he was born and raised by Caribbean immigrant parents.
In tossing out the first three charges in a five-count indictment, the judge wrote that appeals courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have made clear that proof of a promise was necessary to support criminal charges when payments are made in the form of campaign contributions.
The judge said he also agreed with a defense argument that even if true, the facts in the indictment don't establish criminal liability. He noted that the government's timeline of events shows that there was no agreement between the developer and Benjamin at the time Benjamin provided $50,000 in state funding.
The charges that were left intact allege that Benjamin knowingly made a false entry in a record with the intent to impede an investigation.