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Ex-N.Y. Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin has federal corruption charges dismissed

Former New York lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin departs a federal court hearing April 18. (Kevin Hagen/AP)

NEW YORK — Corruption charges against former New York lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin were dismissed Monday by a federal judge who said prosecutors did not sufficiently allege a “quid pro quo” deal between Benjamin and a real estate developer pertaining to campaign contributions.

An indictment filed in April by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan — which prompted Benjamin (D) to resign as the state’s No. 2 government official — did not provide a satisfactory basis for bringing bribery and fraud charges, U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken ruled in a 38-page decision.

The development significantly minimizes the potential criminal liability Benjamin faces, because the indictment was built around a bribery scheme that is no longer legally viable. He still could serve up to 40 years in prison on a pair of falsification of records counts if the case moves forward on those charges alone. Before Monday’s decision, a January trial date had been set.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on Monday’s ruling.

Barry Berke and Dani James, lawyers for Benjamin, issued a statement denouncing prosecutors for filing “such flimsy and unwarranted charges,” adding that Benjamin’s alleged misconduct amounted to “routine fundraising.”

“Today’s decision shows how these wrongful charges so harmed Mr. Benjamin and unfairly cost him his position as Lt. Governor,” the statement said. “The dismissal of this now discredited bribery theory also makes clear how the indictment was a direct assault on the democratic process.”

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Benjamin was accused of directing $50,000 in state funds to a nonprofit run by a developer who was helping him raise campaign contributions.

The indictment covers a stretch of time beginning in 2019, when Benjamin was a state senator representing Harlem, before he was tapped to serve as Gov. Kathy Hochul’s top deputy. During that time, he ran unsuccessfully for New York City comptroller. In that campaign, he took part in a matching funds program that would have given him access to public money to augment his campaign donations.

Prosecutors said Benjamin recruited developer Gerald Migdol to help him raise funds and conceal where they came from. In exchange, prosecutors alleged, Benjamin allegedly took steps to steer $50,000 in state funds to a charitable organization headed by Migdol.

Migdol’s charity, which provided assistance to Harlem public schools, did not ultimately receive the money. Migdol faces charges including wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and identity theft.

Hochul (D) was lieutenant governor to then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) and ascended to the top spot when Cuomo resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal. She was elected for a full four-year term last month.