FBI agents seized Mayor Eric Adams’ electronic devices earlier this week in what appears to be a dramatic escalation of a federal corruption investigation into whether his 2021 campaign conspired with the Turkish government and others to inject money into its coffers, two people familiar with the matter. said.
Officers approached the mayor on the street Monday and asked his security guards to move away, one of the people said. They got into his SUV with him and, pursuant to a court-authorized warrant, took his devices, the person said. The devices – at least two cellphones and an iPad – were returned to the mayor within days, the sources said. Law enforcement investigators with a search warrant can make copies of the data on the devices after seizing them.
A lawyer for Mr. Adams and his campaign said in a statement that the mayor “immediately complied with the FBI’s request and provided them with electronic devices” after an event on Monday.
Attorney Boyd Johnson stressed that Mr. Adams had not been accused of wrongdoing and that he was cooperating with federal authorities.
“Upon learning of the federal investigation, it was discovered that an individual had recently acted inappropriately,” Mr. Johnson said. “In the spirit of transparency and cooperation, this behavior was immediately and proactively reported to investigators. »
The statement did not identify the individual, did not detail the conduct reported to authorities and did not specify whether the reported misconduct was related to the seizure of the mayor’s devices. It was also not immediately clear whether the agents were referring to the fundraising investigation when they took the mayor’s devices.
Mr. Adams, in his own statement, said: “As a former member of law enforcement, I expect all members of my staff to follow the law and cooperate fully in any type of investigation – and that’s exactly what I will continue to do.” He added that he had “nothing to hide”.
The surprise seizure of Mr. Adams’s devices was an extraordinary development and appeared to be the first direct example of the campaign contribution investigation affecting the mayor. Mr. Adams, a retired police captain, said Wednesday that he urged his staff so vehemently to “respect the law” that it could almost be “annoying.” He laughed at the idea of potentially being exposed to a crime.
Spokespeople for the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, whose prosecutors are also investigating the case, declined to comment.
The federal investigation into Mr. Adams’ campaign came to light on November 2, when FBI agents raided the home of the mayor’s top fundraiser and seized two laptops, three iPhones and a cardboard folder titled “Eric Adams”.
The fundraiser, a 25-year-old former intern named Brianna Suggs, has not spoken publicly since the raid.
Mr. Adams reacted to news of the raid by abruptly returning from Washington, D.C., where he had just arrived for a day of meetings with the White House and congressional leaders regarding the influx of migrants, a problem that , according to him, threatens to “destroy New York”. City.”
On Wednesday, he said his abrupt return was motivated by his desire to be there for his team and out of concern for Ms. Suggs, who he said had endured a “traumatic experience.”
“Although I am mayor, I have not stopped being a man and a human being,” he said.
But he also said he did not speak with Ms Suggs on the day of the raid, to avoid any appearance of interference with an ongoing investigation.
The warrant obtained by the FBI to search Ms. Suggs’ home sought evidence of a conspiracy to violate campaign finance law between members of Mr. Adams’ campaign, the Turkish government or Turkish nationals and a Brooklyn-based developer, KSK Construction, whose owners are from Turkey. The warrant also sought records on donations from Bay Atlantic University, a Washington, D.C., university whose founder is Turkish and affiliated with a school Mr. Adams visited when he visited Turkey as president of the borough of Brooklyn in 2015.
The warrant, reviewed by The New York Times, said authorities were investigating whether the Turkish government or Turkish nationals funneled donations to Mr. Adams using what is known as a straw donation system, in which contributors listed were not the real source of the money. . The mandate also covered Mr. Adams’ campaign’s use of New York City’s generous public matching program, in which New York City provides an eight-to-one match on the first $250 of the donation. ‘a resident.
Federal authorities also sought evidence about whether any member of the Adams campaign provided any benefit to Turkey or the construction company in exchange for campaign donations.
This is not the first time Mr. Adams or people in his orbit have come under scrutiny from law enforcement. In September, Eric Ulrich, a former building commissioner and senior adviser to Mr. Adams, was indicted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg on 16 counts, including bribery and conspiracy.
In July, Mr. Bragg charged six people, including a retired police detective who worked and socialized with Mr. Adams, with conspiring to funnel illegal donations to the 2021 mayor’s campaign.
Separately, the city’s Department of Investigation was investigating the role of Timothy Pearson, one of the mayor’s closest advisers, in a violent altercation at a Manhattan migrant center.
Mr. Adams also had run-ins with the law before becoming mayor. Shortly after being elected Brooklyn borough president, he organized an event to raise funds for a new nonprofit, One Brooklyn, which was not yet registered with the state. The invitation list was based on the donor lists of nonprofits run by his predecessor, records show.
An investigation by the city Department of Investigation concluded that Mr. Adams and his nonprofit appeared to have improperly solicited funds from groups that had or soon would have cases pending before his office. Mr. Adams’ office stressed to investigators that the errors occurred early in his tenure and promised to comply with the law in the future.
Earlier, when Mr. Adams was a New York state senator, the state inspector general found that he and other Senate Democrats had fraternized with lobbyists and accepted large contributions to the campaign by people affiliated with contenders for a video lottery contract at Aqueduct Racetrack.
In response to a Times review of his fundraising record in 2021, Mr. Adams attributed the review in part to his race.
“Black candidates for office are often held to higher and unfair standards – especially those from low-income backgrounds like me,” he said in a statement at the time. “None of my campaigns have ever been accused of serious fundraising violations, and no contributions have ever affected my decision-making as a public official.” He added: “I did not go from being someone who enforced the law to someone who broke the law. »
Mr. Adams is not the first city mayor whose fundraising has attracted the attention of the federal government. In 2017, federal prosecutors examined episodes in which then-Mayor Bill de Blasio or his surrogates solicited donations from people seeking city favors and then made inquiries on their behalf to city agencies.
In deciding not to prosecute, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim cited “the particular difficulty of proving criminal intent in bribery schemes when there is no evidence of personal gain.” “. Mr. de Blasio received a warning letter about these activities from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board.