An FBI raid, fundraisers and a film cameo: NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ ties to Turkey

Eric Adams’ Turkish connections are under the microscope after an FBI raid on his top fundraiser

Tuesday 14 November 2023 18:47 GMT
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NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ top fundraiser Brianna Suggs is under instigation
NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ top fundraiser Brianna Suggs is under instigation (Associated Press)

In September, New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared in bleak terms that the arrival of more than one hundred thousand migrants in just a few months posed an existential threat to the city’s survival.

“This issue will destroy New York City,” he said bluntly.

Mr Adams used the crisis to flex his credentials as a global statesman, travelling to Ecuador, Mexico and Colombia’s Darien Gap to discourage groups from making the dangerous trek north and stem the flow into the city’s overcrowded shelters.

He also used the migrant emergency as a cudgel to criticise fellow Democrats, including President Joe Biden.

Then during a 2 November visit to Washington DC with mayors from Chicago and Denver to discuss the migrant influx with White House officials, a crisis broke much closer to home.

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That morning, the Brooklyn home of Mr Adams’ top fundraiser Brianna Suggs had been raided by FBI agents. They were looking for evidence that his 2021 mayoral campaign had conspired with the Turkish government to funnel illegal donations through a straw-donor scheme.

The Mayor abruptly cancelled his meetings in DC and returned to New York to deal with “a matter,” according to a spokesperson.

“I felt the need of being here in the city,” he told PIX11 later that day.

In his first public comments on the raid on Wednesday 8 November, Mr Adams confirmed he had hired a lawyer to represent him but denied wrongdoing.

News then broke two days later on 10 November that FBI agents had seized the Mayor’s cell phones and an iPad earlier in the week after obtaining a search warrant.

The federal investigation has since broadened to look into whether Mr Adams crossed any lines during his time as Brooklyn borough president when he intervened to help the Turkish consulate secure approval to open a 35-story skyscraper near the United Nations.

Here’s what to know about Eric Adams and allegations of illegal campaign funding from Turkey.

‘Straw’ contributions

Ms Suggs’ home was one of several properties raided as part of an investigation by the US Attorney’s office in Manhattan into whether the Adams campaign had conspired with the Turkish government to receive illegal donations from foreign citizens, The New York Times reported.

The warrant sought records related to contributions, travel to Turkey by people linked to the campaign and information about persons “acting at the behest of the Turkish government”, according to the Times.

The feds also sought information related to a Brooklyn company, KSK Construction Group, along with a small university in Washington, DC, that has close ties to the Turkish government.

Citing information from law enforcement sources, CNN reported that investigators are looking into whether foreign nationals who are banned from making campaign donations had used US citizens of Turkish origin to make “straw” contributions on their behalf.

Gated front steps lead up to the home of Brianna Suggs in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which FBI agents raided on 2 November
Gated front steps lead up to the home of Brianna Suggs in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which FBI agents raided on 2 November (Associated Press)

Under New York’s generous campaign funding system, the city provides an eight-to-one match for the first $250 donated by a city resident.

“Numerous” homes and businesses were raided as part of the investigation, CNN reported.

Mr Adams, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, said in a statement that he was “outraged and angry if anyone attempted to use the campaign to manipulate our democracy and defraud our campaign”. His office did not respond to a request for further comment.

In a further twist, it emerged that NYPD officers had shown up to Ms Suggs’ Crown Heights home hours before federal investigators.

This was standard procedure to ensure they had the right address, an NYPD spokesperson later said.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams talks to the press in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in Mexico City
New York City Mayor Eric Adams talks to the press in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in Mexico City (AP)

According to the warrant, investigators who raided Ms Suggs home had been seeking information on KSK Construction Group and Bay Atlantic University in  Washington, DC, a small university formed less than a decade ago.

New York City’s Campaign Finance Board records show Mr Adams received $2,000 donations from five Bay Atlantic University employees, including president Sinem Vatanartiran, after a fundraiser in September 2021.

The donations were repaid weeks later after the campaign received more money than it could spend, Evan Thies, a spokesman for Mr Adams’ 2021 campaign, told The City.

Ms Vatanartiran did not respond to The Independent’s request for comment, but her spokesperson told The City that she had personally supported Mr Adams, and that she was informed her donation was returned after it surpassed maximum public finance limits.

Eleven employees from KSK Construction Group donated nearly $14,000 to Mr Adams’ successful 2021 campaign, a review of New York City campaign finance records shows.

KSK Construction did not respond to a request for comment by The Independent.

Several employees said they had been advised not to speak publicly when contacted by the Associated Press.

‘NYC the Istanbul of America’

Mr Adams enjoys longstanding ties with Turkish government officials and institutions, and the Turkish American community in New York, a relationship that is now coming under the microscope.

During a flag-raising ceremony in Manhattan just six days before the FBI raids, Mr Adams declared that “New York City is the Istanbul of America”.

“I’m probably the only mayor in the history of this city that has not only visited Turkey once, but I think I’m on my sixth or seventh visit to Turkey.”

Mr Adams had previously recognised Turkey’s Republic Day in 2021 with a ceremony outside City Hall — noting it was the first time the city had done so.

The mayor’s campaign has held several fundraisers at the Ali Baba Mediterranean and Turkish Cuisine in Kips Bay, and recognised owner Aliriza Dogan at last month’s flag raising ceremony.

In August 2015 while serving as Brooklyn borough president Mr Adams reportedly first travelled to Turkey for the first time as a guest of the Turkish Consulate, who paid $4,999 towards his accommodation and flights, according to the Daily News.

The City reported that Turkish Airlines, the Turkish Culture and Promotion Office in New York, and Bahcesehir University paid a further $6,000 towards the trip. It’s unclear where the rest of the funding came from.

Mr Adams signed sister-city agreements with two districts of Istanbul, Beşiktaş and Üsküdar, reportedly claiming at the time that “Brooklyn is America’s Üsküdar.”

Mr Adams returned to Turkey months later where he visited the Nizip Syrian refugee camp in Gaziantep province, where he praised Turkey for its humanitarian efforts.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams arrives to Necocli, Colombia, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023
New York City Mayor Eric Adams arrives to Necocli, Colombia, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023 (Associated Press)

Explaining his globe-trotting exploits in an interview with The Daily Sabah on the the trip, he said: “I have one of the largest Turkish populations in the US living in Brooklyn and it is important to me that they understand the reason why I was willing to come back to Turkey just a few months after my previous visit, to really understand the crisis this country is facing.

“You cannot be a global changer if you are a domestic traveler,” he told The Daily Sabah.

More than $13,000 in travel costs were paid for by the Association of Young Tourism Leaders.

In September, Mr Adams heaped praise on Emine Erdogan, the wife of Turkish president Recep Erdogan, for her environmental efforts at a “Path to Global Zero Waste Movement” during an event for the United Nations General Assembly week, New York Magazine reported.

In remarks reported by the Anadolu Agency, Mr Adams said: “We have two mothers. One gave birth to us and the other sustained (us), and what the (Turkish) first lady is doing is stating it clearly.

“I thank you for your vision, for your wisdom and understanding that we have an obligation to sustain the life of the mother.”

Mr Adams also had a small role in a Turkish language film shot in New York in 2017 called New York Masah, or Fairytale of New York, NY Mag reported.

In the scene, two Turkish actors ask the then-Brooklyn borough president in Turkish for political favours to open a restaurant and add a floor to their home.

Mr Adams tells the men he can’t understand what they’re saying, but that “Brooklyn loves Turkey”.

FBI seizes Mayor’s phones and iPad

On Friday 10 November, it emerged that FBI agents had approached the Mayor at a public event earlier on Monday and seized at least two of his phones and an iPad.

The electronic devices were later returned to the mayor, people familiar with the matter told the New York Times, who were first to report the incident.

Law enforcement would have had to convince a judge they had probable cause that a crime had been committed to obtain the warrant.

In a statement to CNN, Mr Adams insisted he had done nothing wrong and would comply with the investigation.

“As a former member of law enforcement, I expect all members of my staff to follow the law and fully cooperate with any sort of investigation — and I will continue to do exactly that,” the mayor said.

On Wednesday 8 November, Mr Adams confirmed he had hired a private attorney to represent him in the probe.

‘We don’t do quid pro quo’

On 12 November, the Times reported that investigators were probing Mr Adams’ contacts with the former FDNY commissioner Daniel Nigro over safety delays to the opening of a 35-story skyscraper housing the Turkish consulate in September 2021.

The FDNY had reportedly rejected the building’s fire-protection plan in mid-2021.

Then days before a ribbon-cutting ceremony was due to be held with Mr Erdogan in attendance, the Turkish consul general contacted Mr Adams, then the Brooklyn borough president, to ask about the status of the tower’s occupancy permit

Mr Adams then contacted Fire Commissioner Nigro, and the opening of The Turkevi Center, also known as Turkish House, went ahead as scheduled.

Adams says he is cooperating fully with the federal investigations
Adams says he is cooperating fully with the federal investigations (Associated Press)

In a 14 November press conference at City Hall, Mr Adams insisted he had simply been representing his constituents.

“This is what we do as elected officials, and I would be neglectful in my duties if a constituency reaches out to me and asks for assistance and I’m not giving them that assistance,” Mr Adams said.

“We don’t do quid pro quo.”

Asked if he would resign if he is indicted, the mayor tried to laugh off the question, saying “I’m not speculating on that. You’re all the way down field.”

City Hall chief counsel Lisa Zornberg repeatedly interjected as reporters posed questions to Mr Adams, stressing that the mayor’s campaign was “proactively cooperating” with the federal investigation.

She said she had seen nothing to suggest Mr Adams was the target of the probe, but refused to say whether any other campaign staffers had their devices seized.

Who is Brianna Suggs?

Ms Suggs, 25, is described as a trusted member of the mayor’s inner circle, who was hired as his lead fundraiser in 2021 at the age of just 23. She has boasted on LinkedIn of raking in an eye-watering $18.4m for Mr Adams’ campaigns.

According to New York’s campaign database, she was paid $35,000 for her work on the 2021 campaign and has received a further $65,000 for her work on the mayor’s reelection.

Ms Suggs began working in the Brooklyn borough president’s office in 2017, and has also worked as a special liaison and women’s health analyst.

On her website, she lists the Brooklyn Democratic Party, several New York assembly candidates, a state senator and Mr Adams as among her past and present clients.

Ms Suggs combines her fundraising duties with work as a lobbyist, which ethics experts say can lead to conflicts of interest.

Corruption scandals surrounding Adams’ campaign

Advisers and political allies of Mr Adams have been implicated in several recent corruption cases.

Eric Ulrich, the former New York City Buildings Commissioner and a senior advisor to Adams, was charged with 16 felony corruption charges related to accepting bribes in September. He has pleaded not guilty.

His arrest came just two months after Manhattan prosecutors brought charges against six others in an alleged straw donor conspiracy to divert tens of thousands of dollars to Adams’ mayoral campaign in the months before his election.

In July, Manhattan district attorney Melvin Bragg charged six people with allegedly diverting tens of thousands in public funds to Mr Adams’ campaign. The defendants included a former NYPD commander and Teamsters union official.

Mr Adams has not been implicated in either case.

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