NYC Mayor Adams investigation focused on campaign money and possible foreign influence

ByJohn Miller, CNN, CNNWire
Tuesday, November 14, 2023
NYC mayor investigation focused on campaign money, foreign influence
The investigation into Eric Adams, mayor of NYC, is focused on campaign money and possible foreign influence.

NEW YORK -- The FBI investigation into Mayor Eric Adams is focused on campaign money, favors and possible foreign influence, according to officials briefed on the investigation.

Adams has a long and proud relationship with the Turkish-American community of New York City, and he has made a half a dozen trips to Turkey. The FBI is also looking into those trips and one of the locations searched on Nov. 2 was the residence of an executive from Turkish Airlines.

The FBI, the sources said, is also looking into contacts with Turkish government officials in New York and in Turkey to determine if a foreign government used a web of businessmen and Turkish expats to curry favor with Adams to further Turkey's business interests in New York - or even develop a long-term alliance with an American politician who has made no secret about having further political ambitions, including the White House.

Some of the allegations being investigated involve a Brooklyn-based construction company owned by a Turkish-American businessman who sources say gathered employees and others to write checks to the Adams campaign and then allegedly paid the donors back in full, skirting campaign finance laws.

Sources familiar with what investigators have found told CNN that the FBI has the records of checks and wire transfers from KSK, returning money to employees in the same amounts as the contributions. The total amount of the contributions exceeded the money the company could have legally given but also triggered matching funds the issued by the city. KSK boasts on its website that it has constructed more than 50 buildings in New York City, with projects that range from townhouse renovations to condo complexes and full scale skyscrapers. These are the kinds of major projects that can require a vast amount of permits and interactions from multiple city agencies.

Reached by CNN Monday, KSK had no comment.

On Nov. 2, the FBI gathered nearly 100 agents and executed search warrants or conducted interviews at a dozen locations simultaneously at 6 a.m. One location was the home of Brianna Suggs, the 25-year-old head of Adams' campaign fund raising operations. They removed cellular phones and an iPad as well as envelopes full of records.

People briefed on the search told CNN that agents also interviewed Suggs, who has not returned messages left by CNN.

That morning, after learning about the search, Adams abruptly canceled a meeting at the White House to discuss the migrant crisis and returned to New York. The following Monday, city officials confirm, FBI agents approached the mayor as he was leaving an event at New York University and asked to speak with him outside the presence of his security detail.

They met with Adams inside the mayor's city-owned Suburban where they asked the mayor to turn over two phones and an iPad. The phones were subject to a search warrant authorized by a federal judge allowing the FBI to create copies to the content in the devices to review in search of evidence. To obtain a search warrant to go through the phones of the mayor of the nation's largest city, FBI agents would have to submit a sworn affidavit laying out enough evidence to convince a federal judge that there was probable cause to believe the phones contained evidence of illegal activities.

SEE ALSO: FBI seizes NYC Mayor Eric Adams phones in campaign investigation

A source close to the mayor told CNN that the following day, the mayor voluntarily turned over two additional devices as part of what Adams has said is his ongoing cooperation with the investigators.

"The mayor and our team are continuing to work with investigators and cooperate," said Lisa Zornberg, chief counsel to the mayor. "We hope that investigators will continue to cooperate with us and reprimand any federal officer who has improperly leaked details about this investigation as such conduct could prejudice the public and undermines the integrity of our law enforcement process," she added.

The mayor has not been accused of wrongdoing.

The FBI, according to The New York Times, and city officials who are familiar with the investigation are looking into whether Adams used his influence as Brooklyn Borough President in 2021 to get the New York City Fire Department to waive safety requirements so that a temporary certificate of occupancy would be issued to the newly constructed Turkish Mission to the United Nations.

A city official confirmed that the government of Turkey was concerned that the permits wouldn't be granted in time for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be able to cut the ribbon to open the building while visiting the United Nations. According to sources briefed on the investigation, Adams received a text message from the Turkish Consul General asking for help with a temporary permit even though safety requirements had not yet been met. Adams, the sources said, forwarded the consul's text to the then Fire Commissioner, Dan Nigro with a message: "Please take a look at this."

On September 10, 2021, the fire department sent a letter to the fire-safety contractor in charge of alarms, smoke detectors and sprinklers saying, "FDNY does not object to the Department of Buildings issuing a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy provided that ... the Department of Buildings has inspected, tested and approved the installed water-based fire suppression systems."

The officials said that not all of the technical safety requirements could be met in time but as a stopgap measure, the Turkish Mission was able to hire security guards to stand post as fire wardens until the safety equipment could be brought up to code.

In a statement released Sunday, Adams said that "As a Borough President, part of my routine role was to notify government agencies of issues on behalf of constituents and constituencies. I have not been accused of wrongdoing and I will continue to cooperate with investigators."

A source who is familiar with the aspects of the probe involving the fire department told CNN that Nigro received a grand jury subpoena, and, sources said, voluntarily spoke to and was interviewed by FBI agents.

Editor's note: John Miller was deputy commissioner of the NYPD, and he served under Mayor Eric Adams. He left the department in July 2022.

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