Bribery, fraud charges reinstated against former New York Lt. Governor

FILE - Former New York Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin leaves a hearing in federal court on April 18, 2022, in New York. A federal appeals court on Friday, March 8, 2024, reinstated bribery and fraud charges against Benjamin. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday reinstated bribery and fraud charges against former New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin.

The decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan reversed a December 2022 ruling by a lower-court judge that wiped out the bulk of the case against the Democrat, leaving only records falsification charges.

The appeals court said in its written decision that a jury could infer from the alleged facts in the case that Benjamin promised to allocate $50,000 in state funds to a non-profit organization controlled by a real estate developer in return for campaign contributions from the developer.

“We conclude that the indictment sufficiently alleged an explicit quid pro quo,” the 2nd Circuit said. “Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings.”

In an opinion written by Judge Steven J. Menashi, the three-judge panel concluded that Benjamin had fair warning that his alleged agreement with the developer “was illegal and that it would not become legal if he simply avoided memorializing it expressly in words or in writing.”

Benjamin's lawyer, Barry Berke, noted in a statement that the tussle over the legal standard that applies to the allegations against his client came before a trial.

“Those allegations are false. The facts are clear that Mr. Benjamin did nothing other than engage in routine fundraising and support a non-profit providing needed resources to Harlem public schools, ”Berke said. “We remain confident that Mr. Benjamin will be vindicated in this case, which never should have been brought.”

A spokesperson for prosecutors declined comment.

Benjamin resigned as lieutenant governor after his April 2022 arrest. The arrest had created a political crisis for Gov. Kathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat who chose him to serve as second-in-command when she became governor following a sexual harassment scandal that drove from office her predecessor, Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

Benjamin was the state’s second Black lieutenant governor. During a state Legislature career that began in May 2017, he emphasized 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 most serious charges in 2022, Judge J. Paul Oetken wrote 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.