By Kara Scannell and Michelle Watson, CNN
A federal judge has thrown out bribery and fraud charges against former New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, saying the prosecutors did not allege a sufficient quid pro quo.
Benjamin, a Democrat, has had three of the five charges against him dismissed, a court filing and docket shows. Benjamin was initially charged with bribery, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to commit those two crimes. He was also charged with falsification of records relating to contributions to his Senate campaign and falsification of records relating to an executive appointment questionnaire, according to a Monday court filing.
Of those five charges, the first three have been dismissed, according to court documents.
“Today’s decision shows how these wrongful charges so harmed Mr. Benjamin and unfairly cost him his position as Lt. Governor. The dismissal of this now discredited bribery theory also makes clear how the indictment was a direct assault on the democratic process,” Benjamin’s defense attorney said in a statement.
A spokesman for the US attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment on the ruling. CNN has reached out to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office.
Benjamin was appointed to his position by Hochul after she took over the state’s top job from Andrew Cuomo following his resignation last summer. Benjamin resigned in April after being arrested and indicted on charges in connection with his alleged participation in a scheme to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for securing a state grant.
“Benjamin solicited and received campaign contributions from New York real estate developer Gerald Migdol and, in exchange for those contributions, allocated $50,000 in state funds to Migdol’s nonprofit organization in Harlem,” the filing said. “Benjamin has moved to dismiss the Indictment on the ground that the government has not met the heightened legal standard for bribery and fraud charges in the particular context of a public official’s fundraising for a political campaign.”
CNN has reached out to Migdol for comment.
In a motion to dismiss, Benjamin argued, “to be unlawful, an alleged agreement to exchange campaign contributions for official action must be explicit: not inferred from ambiguous statements or a chronology of events, but explicit, meaning actually, clearly, and unambiguously expressed by the parties,” according to the Monday filing.
The motion to dismiss charges one through three was granted, according to Judge J. Paul Oetken who signed the Monday court filing.
The court concluded, “that the Indictment fails to allege an explicit quid pro quo, which is an essential element of the bribery and honest services wire fraud charges brought against Benjamin.”
“As a result, defendants motion to dismiss is granted as to the first three counts,” the filing said. “The Indictment is sufficient, however, with respect to the falsification-of records charges in the fourth and fifth counts, as to which the motion to dismiss is denied.”
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