NY appeals court reinstates bribery charges against former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin

NEW YORK — The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday revived bribery charges against former New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin that were dismissed after a lower court found the feds failed to establish sufficient evidence of a quid pro quo between him and a campaign donor.

“We conclude that the indictment sufficiently alleged an explicit quid pro quo,” the three-judge panel found unanimously. “Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings.”

The decision reinstates the bulk of the case against Benjamin, dismissed by Manhattan Federal Court Judge Paul Oetken in December 2022, who found prosecutors had failed to show the fallen politician steered $50,000 in state funds to a nonprofit controlled by the late real estate developer Jerry Migdol in a quid pro quo scheme to generate fraudulent straw donations.

Benjamin stepped down as deputy governor within hours of facing charges in April 2022, alleging that as a state senator, he abused his authority to allocate state grant funds to funnel money to Migdol’s nonprofit, Friends of Public School Harlem.

That organization, in turn, steered the money back to his failed New York City comptroller campaign in the form of illegal small-dollar straw donations totaling no more than $250 in others’ names, including a 2-year-old, the charges alleged.

Among other allegations, the feds say Benjamin tried to hide the 2019 arrangement with Migdol by falsifying campaign forms, lying during a background check after Gov. Kathy Hochul handpicked him as her second-in-command and misleading regulators.

“Today’s decision relates to the legal standard that applies to the allegations in the Indictment against Mr. Benjamin since the Indictment was dismissed prior to any trial of those charges. Those allegations are false,” Benjamin’s attorney, Barry Berke, said in a statement to the Daily News.

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

While a win for prosecutors, the decision comes less than a month after Migdol’s sudden death, leaving them without a key witness.

In a deal with prosecutors after Benjamin’s arrest, Migdol admitted to organizing and concealing tens of thousands of dollars in fake contributions from 2019 to 2021 to boost Benjamin’s campaign war chest by exploiting the city Campaign Finance Board program that provides up to $8 for every dollar of eligible funds raised by a candidate.

“The fraudulent contributions were intended to enable Brian Benjamin’s campaign to procure public matching funds under false pretenses,” Migdol said in his plea.

Prosecutors in late February moved to dispose of the charges against Migdol, as is protocol when a defendant dies.

A spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams declined to comment.