Could Mayor Adams Go to Jail if Found Guilty in the FBI Investigation?
By: Benyamin Davidsons
The FBI’s ongoing investigation on New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ 2021 campaign seems to have escalated.
On Nov. 10, Federal agents had approached Mayor Adams on the street, asked his security guards to step aside, and seized several of his electronic devices, including three cellphones and two iPads. The week before, armed with a warrant, they conducted a raid, before dawn, on the home of his chief fundraiser, 25-year-old Brianna Suggs, confiscating documents and cell phones. The electronic devices have since been returned after copying the contents, in order to scourge through messages between him and his campaign and Turkish Consul General Reyhan Özgür and then-FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, per the NY Post.
The FBI is probing whether Adams may have helped fast track the opening of the new Turkish diplomatic headquarters, at 46th Street and First Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, by pressing the FDNY commissioner to expedite the approvals needed to operate. They are also searching through the campaign donations to see if there were contributions made without a name that may indicate kickbacks the Mayor might have allegedly received from Turkish government sources. As reported by the Guardian, FBI agents have also searched the private residence of a Turkish Airlines executive and a Brooklyn construction company owned by Turkish immigrants that had fundraised for then Brooklyn Borough President Adams, during his mayoral race.
The mayor has not been charged with or accused with any crime so far. Adams, a former police officer, has strongly denied any wrongdoing. “We don’t do quid pro quo, we follow the law,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We’ve been fully cooperative. We are not going to impede an active investigation by providing more detail,” said the city’s chief counsel, Lisa Zornberg. “There has been no indication that I’ve seen that the mayor is a target.”
Per the Guardian, despite the slow progress of the investigation, and the lack of any evidence thus yet, legal experts say that if the feds do find end up finding any proof, the mayor could be in real trouble. “If a bribe is proven, the criminal consequences could be tremendous – years in prison,” said Jacob Eisler, a professor of election law and anti-corruption at the Florida State University.
Last week, at a press conference, Mayor Adams had agreed that in 2021, while running for mayor, he had received a request from the Turkish consulate regarding their new tower’s certificate of operations. He had forwarded the message to NYC fire commissioner, Daniel Nigro, to see if Nigro could “look into” an approval process for the Turkevi Center, the consulate’s new high-rise building located close to the UN’s headquarters. The approvals had been delayed because the fire department had been looking into certain safety issues in the structure. Per the NY Times, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was eager to have the opening in time for the UN general assembly that fall, and so they were looking to speed things up. Shortly after the messages between Adams, Özgür and Nigro the temporary permit was issued.
Numerous experts have said that this kind of correspondence is very typical and a regular way of just helping constituents. Adam’s, as Brooklyn Borough President did have known good connections with Turkish voters and has taken at least six trips to Turkey, at least one of them paid for by the Turkish government and Turkish Airlines. Adams has also received tens of thousands of dollars in donations for his campaign from groups with ties to Turkey, including $6,000 for his mayoral campaign from board members of the Turken Foundation, a non-profit with links to Erdoğan’s children, per the Guardian.
Turkish immigrant owners of the Brooklyn-based KSK Construction company, also helped fundraise for the mayor, having raised nearly $70,000 for the 2021 campaign. Adams’ campaign also got a donation of $10,000 from the employees of Bay Atlantic University, a Washington DC-based school founded by a Turkish philanthropist, about a week following the Turkish diplomatic headquarters’ opening, although those donations were later refunded.
The question is whether or not any of these donations violated the federal law, and whether Adams’ actions were influenced by the contributions. Adams has repeatedly said that his correspondence with Özgür was standard. “This is what we do as elected officials,” Adams said. “I would be neglectful in my duties if a constituency reaches out to me and ask for assistance, and I’m not giving them that assistance and asking the agency to look into their inquiry.” Adams also dismissed the idea that he had received any donations from improperly disclosed sources. “We don’t do the straw donors,” he said, referring to donations where the donor’s true identity is hidden.