Additional reporting by Yoav Gonen, Greg B. Smith and Harry Siegel
Six people were indicted Friday in Manhattan for allegedly bundling illegal donations to Mayor Eric Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign, saying in phone conversations that Adams “doesn’t want to do anything if he doesn’t get 25 Gs.”
One person involved in Adams’ 2021 campaign said $25,000 was the fundraising standard for having the candidate show up at an event.
District Attorney Alvin Bragg said the defendants — Dwayne Montgomery, Shamsuddin Riza, Millicent Redick, Ronald Peek, Yahya Mushtaq, Shahid Mushtaq, and the company Ecosafety Consultants Inc. — teamed up to boost public matching funds to Adams by donating thousands of dollars in other people’s names.
Montgomery is a retired NYPD inspector, the DA’s office confirmed. A former commanding officer of the 28th Precinct in Harlem, he is also a former colleague of Mayor Adams, “whom he knew socially and worked on criminal justice issues with,” according to campaign spokesperson Evan Thies, who said that “there is no indication that the campaign or the mayor is involved in this case or under investigation.”
The 32-page, 37-count indictment made public Friday for what Bragg called “a deliberate scheme to game the system in a blatant attempt to gain power” alleges that the defendants amassed at least $6,400 in small donations from at least 29 straw donors, friends and family members they repaid using CashApp and Zelle.
Those donors were allegedly used to take advantage of the Campaign Finance Board program where the first $250 donated by any New York City resident is matched eight-to-one, meaning a campaign would collect an additional $2,000 and $6,400 in small donations would have been matched by about $50,000 in public money for the Adams campaign.
Timothy Hunter, a spokesperson for the city’s Campaign Finance Board, said the board had caught eight of the donations that came in as money orders and didn’t award matching funds for them. He said it wasn’t immediately clear if the other donations from the alleged scheme had paid out public dollars to the Adams campaign.
If convicted of the scheme, the defendants could face up to four years in prison, according to the DA.
‘We All Can Eat’
Bragg said the defendants first began holding fundraisers for Adams in August of 2020 in an attempt to gain access and influence if he was elected mayor the following year.
Before holding a fundraiser over Zoom on Aug. 20, 2020 — months before Adams formally launched his mayoral campaign — Montgomery allegedly began recruiting straw donors who he would later reimburse for giving to the Adams campaign.
Over the next year, the defendants worked to get more donors for Adams’ campaign so they could get work on a construction project called Vital Brooklyn. It wasn’t immediately clear what project specifically he was referring to.
“FYI! This is the one I want, Safety , Drywall, and Security one project but we all can eat !,” Riza allegedly wrote in an email forwarded to Montgomery on or around July 21, 2021, according to the indictment. “Please show to him before Event it will start when he’s in office.”
In other emails and communications, the defendants say they are aware of the campaign finance laws but were trying to get around them.
“I know what the campaign finance laws is, I understand that. I’m trying to raise this money…Make sure it’s $1000 in your name and $1000 in another person’s name because the matching funds is eight-to-one, so $2000 is $16,000,” Riza allegedly told defendant Ronald Peek.
While Adams is not named as a defendant, one defendant said that he had been in communication with him according to the indictment.
In August of 2020, Montgomery allegedly emailed a person identified as Campaign Representative 1 asking to be “credited for the contribution” made by a straw donor.
In a phone call in July of 2021 between Montgomery and Riza, Montgomery said that “[the Candidate] said he doesn’t want to do anything if he doesn’t get 25 Gs.”
The indictment does not confirm whether Montgomery and Adams, who had already clinched the primary nomination and was set to face Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa in the November general election, actually had this conversation or were in direct communication.
“The campaign always held itself to the highest standards and we would never tolerate these actions,” said Thies. “The campaign will of course work with the DA’s office, the Campaign Finance Board, and any relevant authorities.
Montgomery has now been suspended from his post as “Director of integrity” at Teamsters Local 237, according to a union spokesperson. He had worked there for nine years, drawing a salary of$163,904 along with a $11,000 car allowance.
Hunter, the Campaign Finance Board spokesperson, said that the investigation by the Manhattan DA “to protect the matching funds program from fraud and abuse is fundamental to its continued success.”
Montgomery, Riza, Redick, Shahid Mushtaq were arraigned Friday morning in Manhattan Supreme Court and pleaded not guilty, according to Bragg’s office. Peek, Yahya Mushtaq will be arraigned on a later date, officials said.
Attorneys representing four of the six defendants couldn’t be immediately reached for comment, and an attorney for Riza declined to comment.
Riza pleaded guilty in 1993 to six counts of extortion and the “wrongful use of actual and threatened force, violence, and fear” while obtaining “contracts, cash, and the placement of workers on various construction projects located in New York City.”
On Friday, Bragg’s office noted that Riza and his company had previously been charged with conspiring to falsify business records in part of what the DA alleges is a “wide-ranging construction fraud scheme” including PPP fraud, companies fraudulently applying for contracts requiring them to be or to work with minority and women owned businesses.
Riza allegedly told a consultant working with a general contractor that “You can say Jersey, you can say we used them in Jersey. And we used them for some corrective work on Park Avenue, in the Bronx or West Bumblef—k – I don’t care. I’m in the door.”
Lawyer Alex Grosshtern, who is representing Redick, said that his client is a freelance bookkeeper who worked for Riza and didn’t know any of the other defendants wrapped up in the conspiracy charges.
“She was surprised that she was detained in this matter,” he said. “She was addressing matters related to his business which is a construction business.”
‘Use a Straw Man’
The defendants continued raising money for the future mayor, recruiting more straw donors.
”All you gotta do is fill out the money order that I’m a bring to you, alright,” Riza allegedly told one straw donor on or about July 29, 2021. “That donation because you haven’t contributed before, counts eight-to-one, so that $250 is worth $2000.”
That same day Riza told another straw donor that “I’ll fill that motherf—-r up, write 470 Lenox Avenue on that b—h, and submit the $250,” adding that “your sister will be the one that will be filling out that God damn postal money order.”
Weeks later, Montgomery and Campaign Representative 1 held an in-person fundraiser at a restaurant in Sunnyside, Queens, and also approached would-be donors about giving to the Adams campaign and then being paid back, according to the indictment.
The defendants continued reaching out to multiple straw donors through the end of the summer, including a person identified in the indictment only as a Manhattan Democratic Party District Leader.
They did share some words of caution as they sought out more donors, according to the indictment.
In early August of 2021, Shamsuddin Riza and Ronald Peek spoke on the phone about funneling some straw donors through employees of Ecosafety Consultants, according to the indictment.
Peek then warned “you gotta be careful cause you gotta make sure you do it through workers they trust, that’s not gonna talk, because remember a guy went to jail for that.” It’s not clear who he is referring to.
However, on Aug. 24, Riza told defendant Yahya Mushtaq to funnel donations through employees at EcoSafety Consultants Inc. The indictment notes that the donations were made in their names “without the knowledge of said employees.”
Riza allegedly said that “even though it says on the flier if you do business with the City, the maximum you can donate is $400 . . . what you want to do, alright, because we’re sponsoring the event, we’re going to do just like the white boys . . . You could use a straw man.”