Criminal Justice

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams’ most significant cases

The federal prosecutor has toppled a lieutenant governor, taken on a New Jersey senator and felled a crypto wunderkind.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams announces an indictment of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez on corruption charges.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams announces an indictment of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez on corruption charges. Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Since being sworn in as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in October 2021, Damian Williams has been at the forefront of some high-profile cases. Here are some of the most significant ones.

Brian Benjamin

SDNY indicted then-Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin in April 2022 for allegedly using his office to direct $50,000 in state funds to a Harlem real estate developer’s charity in exchange for thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions. Benjamin resigned as Hochul’s second in command shortly after the indictment. But while Williams described the former lieutenant governor’s actions as a clear-cut example of public corruption, a federal judge tossed the bribery charges in December 2022, saying prosecutors had not demonstrated an explicit quid pro quo. Only two charges of falsifying records were left intact.

Sam Bankman-Fried 

SDNY moved fairly swiftly after Williams announced a slew of charges against disgraced FTX cryptocurrency exchange founder Sam Bankman-Fried in December 2022. The ensuing case garnered nationwide attention as Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas several days after a grand jury issued an indictment. On the heels of a monthlong trial, the jury convicted Bankman-Fried on seven charges of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering in November 2023. The case – perhaps the most high-profile of Williams tenure as U.S. attorney – marked a significant victory for the office’s ongoing sweeping crackdown on white-collar crime.

Bob Menendez

Even U.S. senators aren’t safe. SDNY in September indicted U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife in a bribery scheme. Federal prosecutors alleged the New Jersey Democrat accepted cash, gold and other perks in exchange for using his office to benefit three businesspeople and the Egyptian government. SDNY in October followed up with a new charge of conspiring to act as an illegal foreign agent of Egypt. A victory would represent a major feat as Menendez previously faced public corruption charges in 2015 and the Justice Department ultimately dropped the prosecution. 

Nikhil Gupta

Perhaps the most explosive indictment brought by SDNY has to do with an assassination attempt. Federal prosecutors charged Nikhil Gupta with working with an Indian government officer to pay someone $100,000 to murder a vocal Sikh critic of New Delhi in New York late last year. The allegation followed a similar plot in Canada that the country tied to Indian government agents in which masked gunmen murdered a Sikh activist.

Eric Adams?

There’s still a lot of unknowns about federal prosecutors' ongoing criminal inquiry into New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ 2021 campaign fundraising. The investigation spilled into the public view after federal authorities raided the home of Adams’ chief fundraiser on Nov. 2. Details later emerged that federal prosecutors and the FBI are investigating whether the campaign conspired with officials in the Turkish government to receive illegal foreign donations. A week after the raid on his fundraiser’s home, FBI agents seized the mayor’s electronic devices. So far, neither Adams nor anyone in his administration have been accused of wrongdoing.

Rikers Island 

Following years of dysfunction and disorder at the embattled jails complex, SDNY in November urged a judge to strip New York City of its control over Rikers Island and appoint a third-party federal receiver in its place. While the decision will ultimately be up to Judge Laura Taylor Swain, Williams’ move and statements in the months leading up to it marked a significant shift for the office, adding credence to the push for a receiver.