A bizarre scandal involving potentially illegal campaign contributions from Turkish citizens has New York City Mayor Eric Adams playing defense after the FBI seized some of his electronic devices.
“This is an ongoing review,” Adams said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “And as a former member of law enforcement, it is always my view, always my belief, don't interfere with an ongoing review and don't try to do these reviews through the press.”
Adams, a Democrat who was elected in 2021, has not personally been accused of wrongdoing. However, his phone and tablet were taken by the FBI last week after agents climbed into his SUV following a speech. CNN has reported that the FBI is looking into whether Adams’s campaign conspired with a Brooklyn construction company to funnel money from Turkish nationals toward his mayoral bid.
Additionally, the New York Times reported Sunday that authorities were looking into whether Adams had pressured the New York Fire Department into giving a new Turkish consulate in Manhattan an occupancy permit despite safety concerns about the high-rise building.
Following Adams’s conversation with the then fire commissioner, the gleaming new building near the U.N. was approved. Underscoring the importance of the sprawling consulate to the Turkish government, the country's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attended its grand opening in September 2021.
When asked Tuesday about his discussion with the fire department, Adams said he reached out on behalf of his constituents, which is something he does every day.
“You reach out to an agency and ask them to look into a matter, you don’t reach out to an agency to compel them to do anything,” Adams said.
The Adams campaign also reportedly took donations from three members of a foundation started by Erdogan’s son that also has Erdogan’s daughter on the board. According to The City, a local paper, Adams’s campaign accepted $6,000 from several U.S. citizens on the foundation’s board.
Some of the mayor’s allies have insisted that there’s nothing unusual about Adams making calls on the Turkish consulate’s behalf.
“I don’t think that should be a smoking gun,” former Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. told the New York Post. “I don’t see any issue at all. Every elected official makes calls to city agencies on behalf of entities, businesses and constituents. That is what we do.”
As part of the investigation, the FBI raided the home of Adams’s chief fundraiser, Brianna Suggs, on Nov. 2. Adams canceled previously scheduled meetings in Washington, D.C., “to deal with a matter,” per a spokesman, with the mayor later saying he “wanted to be back in the city to make sure that things were stable."
According to the search warrant, among the items seized at Suggs’s home were three iPhones, two laptop computers, a “manila folder labeled Eric Adams,’’ seven “contribution card binders” and other documents.
The NYPD Internal Affairs unit ordered a “wellness check” at the home of Suggs hours before the raid. The police said in a statement that the move was "part of the working relationships the NYPD maintains with federal law enforcement agencies ... before warrants are executed to ensure that addresses are correct and that there will be no danger to anyone residing inside."
The mayor’s Turkey ties
Adams has spoken about his affection for Turkey. He even had a brief cameo in the 2017 rom-com New York Masal (which translates to “Fairytale of New York”). The then Brooklyn borough president interacts with two of the lead characters, telling them he doesn’t speak Turkish before saying how much he loves their country.
“Brooklyn loves Turkey,” Adams says in the film. “Brooklyn is the Istanbul of America. We love your food, we love your music, but I don’t understand Turkish. We can take a selfie, though.”
Adams repeated a version of that line during a Turkish flag-raising ceremony last month, saying, “New York City is the Istanbul of America.” He began that event by saying, “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.”
A rocky tenure as New York’s mayor
In July, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced the indictments of six people for an alleged “straw donor” scheme meant to help Adams get elected. Straw donors are people who donate other people’s money under their own name in an effort to get around campaign finance laws.
Neither Adams nor any members of his team were mentioned in the filing, in which the alleged fraudsters attempted to max out their donations in exchange for political favors.
In September, former Department of Buildings Commissioner and Adams confidant Eric Ulrich was charged with exchanging access and favors for cash and gifts. Bragg wrote in a letter to the court that “Ulrich was intercepted between November 4, 2021, and November 1, 2022, on an almost daily basis engaging in conduct antithetical to his oath of office.”
Adams has found himself attached to controversies and strange stories since his 2021 mayoral campaign. During that race, there was confusion about where exactly he lived, with allegations that he resided in New Jersey. Adams has claimed he is vegan despite regularly eating fish, said that New York has a “special energy” because it sits above rare gems and stones and has expressed his belief that Gracie Mansion, where the mayor typically resides, is haunted.