NYC Mayor Adams’ involvement in brother’s charity group event sparks concerns over backdoor donors

NEW YORK — As he often does, Mayor Eric Adams appeared at a black-tie event last week.

The May 16 gala at the upscale Harmonie social club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was held to raise money for a newly-launched charity that aims to fund cultural programs for disadvantaged city kids.

What was different about last week’s gala compared to many others the mayor attends is that the charity in question, Angels Helpers NYC, is the brainchild of his younger brother, Bernard Adams, who is being paid $10,000 annually for his work, covered by private donations to the group, the Daily News has learned.

Bernard Adams’ involvement in the charity, along with the mayor’s participation in the gala, has raised concern among watchdog groups that deep-pocketed players in the city will see giving to Angels Helpers as a legal backdoor for currying favor with the mayor. The gala, Angels Helpers‘ first fundraiser, was attended by several businessmen who also have donated to the mayor’s political and legal causes, according to a review of public records by The News.

It’s not against any rules for the mayor to attend his brother’s gala, but Rachel Fauss, a senior policy adviser at the Reinvent Albany government watchdog group, noted that city conflict of interest law prohibits local elected officials from soliciting donations “on behalf of any organization with which they are associated or that would benefit a person or firm with whom or which they are associated.” Individuals “associated” with an elected official include siblings, according to a 2008 advisory opinion from the city Conflicts of Interest Board, although there’s no indication the mayor is actively soliciting donations for Angels Helpers.

“I don’t know if the mayor is directly soliciting contributions on behalf of his brother, but for him to attend the gala with his political donors certainly raises a lot of red flags,” said Fauss. She also said it could be ethically problematic that the mayor’s political donors, while not doing anything that violates the rules, are effectively helping pay for Bernard Adams’ $10,000 compensation by giving to his charity.

“Money like water finds a way, and where there is the ability to donate money, people are going to try to pull at those strings to curry favor,” said Fauss.

Adams spokespeople didn’t return a request for comment this week on whether the mayor personally invited anyone to the gala or directly asked them to contribute to Angels Helpers. The spokespeople also didn’t say why his appearance wasn’t listed on his public schedule, as charity events he participates in typically are.

Bernard Adams hasn’t returned calls and texts this month.

Veteran government watchdog Susan Lerner, executive director of the nonpartisan Common Cause group, said there’s a need for more rigorous transparency laws around elected officials’ engagement with entities controlled by relatives.

“New York must put protections in place that expand campaign finance disclosure laws so elected officials must publicly disclose when they solicit donations for family members’ nonprofits and other charities,” Lerner said.

Conflicts of Interest Board Executive Director Carolyn Miller, whose agency polices local ethics laws, declined to comment, citing confidentiality protocols.

Upon taking office in 2022, the mayor tried to appoint his brother to a deputy commissioner post at the NYPD. But he backed off that plan after the city Conflicts of Interest Board ruled that it would violate nepotism laws. Instead, Adams tapped his brother to serve as his personal security director, an unpaid post he resigned in February 2023.

As first reported by the New York Times this month, the younger Adams launched Angels Helpers in March with Alisa Roever, a Russian-born ex-model who has attended multiple political fundraising events for the mayor in recent months, Instagram videos show.

Business records reviewed by The News say the goal of Angels Helpers is to raise money for “fostering support for abused women and children, and embarking on educational, literary, and scientific endeavors” by partnering with government agencies and local cultural nonprofits.

In remarks at last week’s gala, Adams thanked attendants for donating and said his brother started expressing interest in charity work benefitting kids while still at City Hall.

“He stated that he wanted to do something for children,” the mayor said in gala remarks posted on Instagram by Roever.

Roever, who’s close with members of ex-President Donald Trump’s family and was recently pictured at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound, confirmed to The News that money raised for Angels Helpers will be used to cover Bernard Adams’ compensation. In total, Roever said last week’s gala raised about $100,000. In addition to some going toward covering the younger Adams’ pay, about $40,000 was spent on food, drinks and other expenses relating to hosting the gala itself, she said.

The remainder will go to Highbridge Voices, a performing arts group in the Bronx, and Harlem School of the Arts, according to Roever.

Richard Owen, CEO of Highbridge Voices, said in a recent interview he doesn’t know exactly how much money his group will get, but told The News it will go toward cultural outreach in Bronx schools.

“The fact that Bernard Adams is involved is a humongous plus,” Owen added.

Among those in attendance at the May 16 gala were investment adviser Jeff Sklar and hedge fund manager Barry Feirstein, who are also contributors to the mayor’s legal defense fund. The fund was launched in November to raise money for covering legal costs incurred as part of an FBI investigation into his 2021 campaign’s finances and ties to the Turkish government. Adams has not been accused of wrongdoing in that probe.

Reached by The News, Sklar wouldn’t say how much he gave to Angels Helpers.

But he wrote in a recent LinkedIn post that he, Feirstein and several others had bought a “table” together at the gala. Roever said Sklar’s group actually bought two tables, each of which cost $10,000, and confirmed both men attended the event.

“I will be very happy to introduce you to the Mayor as well as some other great friends who will be joining us for the evening!” Sklar wrote to his followers on LinkedIn in reference the gala.

Feirstein could not be reached for comment.

On March 13, Sklar gave $5,000 to the mayor’s legal defense fund. Feirstein also gave $5,000, the max legal amount, to the defense fund in December, disclosures show.

In May 2021, Feirstein gave $2,100 to Adams’ successful mayoral run, too, according to Campaign Finance Board records.

Another person at the gala was Scott Sartiano, a restaurateur who owns Zero Bond, a NoHo nightclub the mayor’s known to frequent.

Roever said Sartiano didn’t buy a table or an individual ticket, but rather auctioned off a dinner at his restaurant, Sartiano’s, for $800 at the gala.

There’s no record of Sartiano making political contributions to the mayor, but his wife, Alexandra Rizzo, gave $5,000 to his defense fund on March 27, records show.

A rep for Sartiano did not return a request for comment.

Roever said she and Bernard Adams plan to host another Angels Helpers gala in October.