Shahid and Yahya Mushtaq, two brothers who run a construction company in Queens, each pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a misdemeanor conspiracy charge stemming from a straw donor scheme that generated illicit public matching funds for Eric Adams’ successful 2021 mayoral campaign.
The Mushtaqs’ pleas before state Supreme Court Judge Althea Drysdale in Manhattan require them both to pay a $500 fine and complete 35 hours of community service.
At the court hearing, prosecutors also noted that their construction company had agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement. According to a copy of that agreement, signed earlier this month and reviewed by THE CITY, the Mushtaqs and their firm have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of a larger ongoing investigation.
The agreement requires the Mushtaqs’ company to provide any information and witnesses requested by the DA. The brothers were accused earlier this year as part of a larger case with four other defendants including Dwayne Montgomery, a former NYPD deputy inspector Adams has known socially for years, of what Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg described as “a deliberate scheme to game the system in a blatant attempt to gain power.”
The Mushtaqs declined to comment for this story. The Adams’ campaign denied knowledge of the alleged plan and said it returned the defendants’ contributions after the July indictments.
During the long-term probe, prosecutors caught Yahya Mushtaq on a wiretapped phone call in which they accused him of discussing how to falsify campaign contributions with an associate who allegedly sought to curry favor and future city business with Adams.
On August 24th, 2021, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, prosecutors intercepted a call in which Yahya Mushtaq and that associate, Shamsuddin Riza, discussed how to pass through contributions to Adams’ campaign using Mushtaq’s employees’ names.
“What you want to do, alright, because we’re sponsoring the event, we’re going to do just like the white boys,” said Riza, who went on to detail campaign finance rules. “You could use a straw man.”
The next day, prosecutors allege that Shahid and Yahya Mushtaq purchased money orders at a series of post offices, then submitted them as contributions to the Adams campaign, using the names of their unwitting employees.
That day, Yahya Mushtaq sent Riza a text inquiring about whether he could “do money orders” from a post office, according to prosecutors. Riza allegedly responded: “Yes, but not consecutive. Go to different windows.”
After the indictment against the Mushtaqs became public in July, the Adams’ campaign distanced itself from the defendants.
“The campaign always held itself to the highest standards and we would never tolerate these actions,” Evan Thies, Adams’ 2021 campaign spokesperson, claimed at the time. “The campaign will of course work with the DA’s office, the Campaign Finance Board, and any relevant authorities.”
Neither Adams nor the campaign has been named as a focus of the indictment or investigation.
THE CITY reported last month that New York City’s Campaign Finance Board queried the Adams team about the Mushtaqs’ donations less than two months after the brothers submitted the six allegedly falsified money orders to the campaign. The regulators asked who had arranged four of them, which were all made out on the same day for $400 each, but it received no response.
Money orders, like cash, get special scrutiny by the Campaign Finance Board because of their potential for abuse as part of schemes to illegally generate public matching dollars for campaigns.
Under the city’s matching funds program, mayoral campaigns receive $8 in public funds for every $1 on the first $250 in contributions made by city residents — lowered to $100 for money order and cash donations.
On October 26, 2021, the Campaign Finance Board again asked for paperwork on those four donations. Again, Adams’ campaign staff did not respond to the board’s request for information.
A week later, the Democratic nominee won the mayoral election.
The Mushtaqs’ contributions were not the only campaign donations that regulators asked the Adams campaign about.
In August, THE CITY spoke to several people the Adams campaign had reported to the Campaign Finance Board as donors, who claimed in interviews that they had never contributed to the campaign or were reimbursed for their donations. One of the listed donors is a recent college graduate who said his signature was forged on a $250 money order.
The Campaign Finance Board specifically asked the Adams campaign who had collected the college graduate’s donation along with several other $250 donations made the same day.
The Adams campaign declined to disclose who arranged these contributions.
In response to questions about why it did not respond to inquiries from the Campaign Finance Board, Adams campaign counsel Vito Pitta previously told THE CITY that the campaign responded to every notice from regulators “as appropriate.”
The attorney also asserted that political campaigns “largely rely on contributors to identify themselves as intermediaries after informing them of the rules.”
Additional reporting by Bianca Pallaro.