The number of people under investigation in Mayor Eric Adams’ world continues to grow.
The latest: Federal investigators are trying to determine if Adams’ 2021 campaign for mayor conspired with the Turkish government to accept illegal foreign donations. It’s part of a widening probe that includes whether Adams cleared red tape with the FDNY for the Turkish consulate, and keeps a short list of developers who could cut the line for fire system inspections.
Meanwhile and ongoing: At least two guilty pleas on conspiracy charges from previous donors, an indictment of a former Adams commissioner accused of taking bribes, and evidence of possible straw donors uncovered by THE CITY.
Remember, however: Despite the FBI seizing his electronic devices, the mayor himself has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing, and at a press conference repeatedly said that he instructs his team to “follow the law.”
If you’re having a hard time keeping up, we don’t blame you. Here are the highlights:
What is the FBI investigating, and why did they raid Adams’ campaign aide?
By now, you may know that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigations searched the home of Brianna Suggs — the 25-year-old campaign fundraiser for Adams’ 2025 mayoral campaign — in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Nov. 2.
They did that, The New York Times reported, because the FBI is looking into alleged straw donations and illegal foreign influence in the 2021 mayoral race. CNN later reported FBI agents searched a dozen locations at the same time they went to Suggs’ home, including an executive of Turkish Airlines.
We now know that investigation also includes allegations about not just the campaign but the Adams administration itself. For example: THE CITY reported that the feds are looking into claims that City Hall kept an internal list of property owners seeking approval of fire alarm systems — and allowed prominent real estate developers to get preferential treatment for crucial inspections.
What did investigators find at Suggs’ home?
The agents took binders, a manila folder, papers, two laptops and three iPhones from the Suggs home, according to the Times.
As far as we know, Suggs was also served a subpoena directing her to testify before a Manhattan federal grand jury, but she has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Hours before the FBI search of her home, the NYPD sent officers to Suggs’ address on a “wellness check” at the behest of the police department’s Internal Affairs unit, according to reporting by the Messenger.
Who is Briana Suggs?
Suggs has been close with Adams’ camp for years, going back to when she was 17. She has worked with him when he was Brooklyn borough president, and was a campaign fundraiser when he ran for mayor in 2021. She is very close to his inner circle, sometimes referred to as the goddaughter of Ingrid Lewis-Martin, the mayor’s right-hand-woman, Politico New York reported.
A source close to the campaign told THE CITY that Suggs, who was also a fundraiser for the Adams-associated political action committee Striving for a Better New York, was “committed to elect Eric Adams as mayor.”
“She was involved with everything, especially fundraising.”
Why did the FBI search the mayor’s electronics?
We don’t know the specifics of what they were looking for, but the New York Times’ reporting on the seizure of his two phones and an iPad indicate that the FBI had a search warrant, took his devices and returned them within days.
CNN later reported that Adams voluntarily turned over two other devices the day after the first seizure, according to a source close to the mayor.
What does all of this have to do with Turkey and Turkey’s president?
Details of the search warrant as reported by the Times suggest that the FBI’s investigation centers around whether the Adams team coordinated with various Turkish-linked groups, companies and people to inject foreign money into the campaign using straw donors (more on this in a moment). THE CITY has documented at least three instances of Adams campaign links to Turkey:
- KSK Construction, a Brooklyn firm owned by Turkish nationals: City regulators repeatedly asked the Adams mayoral campaign about donations from KSK employees that are now under scrutiny by the FBI. When contacted by THE CITY, multiple people listed in Adams 2021 campaign donation records as employees of KSK either said they did not donate to Eric Adams or refused to state whether they had ever donated. (THE CITY also reported that KSK’s founder ran another company called Kiska Construction that was at the heart of two New York City government corruption scandals.)
- Bay Atlantic University, a small Turkish-owned institution based in Washington, D.C.: Before the FBI probe began looking into the transactions, the Adams campaign accepted and returned $10,000 in donations linked to the university.
- The Turken Foundation, incorporated by a son of Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with board members who include Erdogan’s daughter: Campaign records show that between 2018 and 2021, the Adams campaign received $6,000 from three U.S. citizens who are board members of the charity. But Adams’ interactions with the foundation go back to at least 2017, THE CITY found.
- City Hall staffer Rana Abbasova has been placed on leave amid the federal investigation, and we now know her home was also raided by the FBI. THE CITY had previously reported that Abbasova traveled with Adams to Turkey when he was borough president and that she coordinated a meeting between Adams and the Turken Foundation.
Wait, back up, what’s a straw donor?
Straw donors are people who are listed in campaign records as having donated to a candidate, but who did not actually contribute that money or were reimbursed for their donations by someone else.
Big-money donors caught in past straw-donation schemes used them in order to push more cash into a campaign than they are legally allowed to give — by getting other people to illegally make donations for them.
What’s so bad about getting money from another country? Is that illegal?
Yes, it is. Federal law bans foreign nationals and governments from donating to local, state or federal political campaigns.
Some of the donors THE CITY identified, such as those on the board of the Turken Foundation, are listed in filings to the Department of Justice as U.S. citizens — and it is legal to accept donations from registered foreign agents who are U.S. citizens.
But the citizenship status of other possible donors related to Turkey remains unclear. Moreover, a straw donation made through a U.S. citizen would still be a violation of campaign finance laws, whether or not it was reimbursed by a foreign entity.
Why would the Turkish government or Turkish officials want to influence the mayor of New York City, or a borough president?
That’s a mystery whose answers are still to be revealed. But broadly, we know that Adams has been a vocal supporter and friend to Turkey in the city for years — and reportedly is being investigated for helping Turkish officials with a major favor.
The New York Times reported that federal investigators are looking into whether Adams pressured the fire department to greenlight the opening of the newly-constructed Turkish consulate — despite safety issues with the building — weeks before he was elected mayor in 2021. At the opening, Turkish President Erdogan boasted that the skyscraper reflected Turkey’s “increased power.”
This isn’t the first time Adams’ people have been investigated, right? What about those other inquiries, and are they linked to the FBI stuff?
There are at least three other money-related investigations and indictments connected to the Adams campaign or administration that you should know about. However, at this time, none of these cases are linked to the Turkey probe by federal investigators:
- Multiple indictments in straw donor scheme: The Manhattan District Attorney indicted six people this summer for allegedly bundling illegal donations to the 2021 Adams campaign, including ex-NYPD deputy inspector Dwyane Montgomery who has known the mayor since they served together on the force. In late October, two of the men indicted pleaded guilty on conspiracy charges stemming from a straw donor scheme. The other four defendants, including Montgomery, have yet to be prosecuted.
- Bribery charges for Adams commissioner: Eric Ulrich — a former Queens City Council member, aide to Mayor Adams and the Commissioner for the Department of Buildings — faces charges related to allegedly pocketing $150,000 in bribes from a wide range of people seeking favors, including four fundraisers for Adams. Ulrich told investigators the mayor had tipped him off about that probe by telling him “watch your back and watch your phones,” the Daily News reported.
- Mystery donations from Flushing: An investigation by THE CITY found multiple instances of people listed as donors to the mayor — all employees of businesses at the New World Mall in Flushing — who said they did not give. One of the reported donors is a recent college graduate who said his signature was forged on a $250 money order.
This all sounds familiar. Where have I seen this before?
Almost every modern mayor of the City of New York has been caught up in similar campaign finance or bribery scandals, but none have been charged with crimes. Here’s THE CITY’s guide on that mayoral history.
What might be the consequences for the mayor, legally or politically?
Legally, the consequences for the FBI investigation remain to be seen. Again: The mayor has not been accused of any wrongdoing or crime at this time, and none of his campaign staff have been either.
Politically, his fate is up in the air. Already, would-be challengers are sending up trial balloons for running against him in 2025. (Here’s our guide on those candidates.)
The governor has the power to remove the mayor if it comes to that point, but no governor has ever used that power. In 1932, then-Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt could have removed Mayor Jimmy Walker, but Walker resigned before he could. Council members called for then-Governor Andrew Cuomo to remove Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2020, but he declined to take that step.
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