Eric Adams (Daily Beast image)

FBI Examining Whether Adams Cleared Red Tape for Turkish Government

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By William K. Rashbaum, Dana Rubinstein and Michael Rothfeld

NEW YORK (New York Times) — Federal authorities are investigating whether Mayor Eric Adams, weeks before his election two years ago, pressured New York Fire Department officials to sign off on the Turkish government’s new high-rise consulate in Manhattan despite safety concerns with the building, three people with knowledge of the matter said.

After winning the Democratic mayoral primary in July, Adams contacted then-Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro in late summer 2021 and urged him to allow the Turkish government to occupy the building at least on a temporary basis. The building had yet to open because fire officials had cited safety issues and declined to sign off on its occupancy, the people said.

The unusual intervention by Adams is being examined as part of a broader public corruption investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors in Manhattan that led to the seizure of the mayor’s electronic devices by federal agents early last week, the people said. The FBI has been asking top Fire Department officials about Adams’s role in the matter since the spring, the people said.

Adams’ intervention paved the way for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose fondness for massive building projects was well known in Turkey, to preside over the grand opening of the $300-million, 35-story tower on his September 2021 visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly, despite numerous flaws in its fire safety system, according to the people familiar with the matter and city records. The skyscraper in the center of New York City reflected Turkey’s “increased power,” Erdogan said at its ribbon-cutting.

The federal criminal inquiry has focused at least in part on whether Adams’s 2021 campaign conspired with the Turkish government, including its consulate general in New York, to illegally funnel foreign money into its coffers, according to a search warrant obtained by the New York Times for an FBI search this month of the home of the mayor’s chief fund-raiser.

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Asked for comment on Saturday morning, Adams’s campaign issued a statement from the mayor, who served as Brooklyn borough president until 2021.

“As a borough president, part of my routine role was to notify government agencies of issues on behalf of constituents and constituencies,” Mr. Adams said. “I have not been accused of wrongdoing, and I will continue to cooperate with investigators.”

Federal prosecutors and the FBI are conducting a probe into whether Mayor Eric Adams’s 2021 campaign conspired with the Turkish government to receive illegal foreign donations.

A representative of the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to requests for comment.

Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, whose prosecutors are also investigating the matter, declined to comment.

At the time he contacted the Fire Department, Adams was completing his second term as Brooklyn borough president, a largely ceremonial job whose authority did not extend to the Manhattan site of the new consulate building, Turkevi Center, across First Avenue from the U.N. But his emergence as the mayoral primary winner in early July all but assured he would prevail in the November general election, given New York City’s heavily Democratic electorate. His influence among city officials had grown accordingly.

Adams already had a long-running relationship with the Turkish consulate general, which paid for part of his trip to Turkey while he was Brooklyn borough president in 2015, according to a public filing.

The warrant to search the home of Adams’s 25-year-old fund-raiser, Brianna Suggs, indicated that the investigation was examining the role of KSK Construction, a Brooklyn building company owned by Turkish immigrants that organized a fund-raising event for Adams on May 7, 2021.

On that day, 48 donors, including the company’s owners, employees and their families, along with others in the construction and real estate industries, donated $43,600, Adams’s campaign reports show. Those contributions enabled him to obtain another $48,000 in public matching funds for a total of nearly $92,000. The city’s generous public matching funds program, intended to reduce the influence of money in politics, provides cash infusions to candidates by increasing donations from city residents up to $250 by a factor of eight. Mr. Adams’s campaign filings do not specify which donations were made through the fund-raising event.

KSK Construction does not appear to have played a role in building the new consulate in Manhattan.

Neither Adams nor his campaign has been accused of wrongdoing, and no charges are publicly known to have been filed in connection with the investigation. The mayor, who retained lawyers last week to represent him, his campaign and Ms. Suggs, has denied knowledge of any impropriety and defended the campaign’s fund-raising.

After the Times reported on Friday that the FBI had seized the mayor’s electronic devices, Adams and his lawyer, Boyd Johnson, issued statements saying that Adams was cooperating fully with the investigation and had instructed his employees to do the same.

“I have nothing to hide,” Adams said in his statement.

FBI agents pulled the mayor aside after an event at New York University on Monday and seized two cellular phones and an iPad, which were copied and returned within days, the mayor’s lawyer has said.

The agents who searched the Brooklyn home of Suggs the week before took computers, cellphones and other evidence, according to records obtained by The Times. The warrant for that search indicated that the inquiry was focused at least in part on whether anyone associated with Mr. Adams’s 2021 campaign had a motive or intent to “provide benefits, whether lawfully or unlawfully,” to the Turkish government, its nationals or the construction firm in exchange for contributions.

It was unclear precisely when the investigation began, but this spring, two FBI agents assigned to the same New York public corruption squad that executed the search warrant at the home of Ms. Suggs interviewed at least one senior Fire Department official who had been involved in the Turkevi Center approval process, three people with knowledge of the matter said. They asked detailed questions about the safety issues, the approval process and whether pressure had been brought to bear and by whom, the people said.

Several months later, in midsummer, at least one other high-ranking Fire Department official was interviewed and asked similar questions, according to two of the people.

And on Nov. 3, the morning after the search of Suggs’s home, FBI agents knocked on the door of Commissioner Nigro and questioned him about Adams’s intervention and his communications with Nigro in the late summer of 2021, three people with knowledge of the interview said.

Adams’s ties to the Turkish government and community stretch back years. As Brooklyn borough president, he actively wooed wealthy members of the Turkish community in south Brooklyn.

In August 2015, the Turkish consulate in New York paid for Adams’s airfare, hotel and ground transportation for a trip to Turkey, according to financial disclosure records. There, Mr. Adams signed a sister-city agreement with Istanbul’s Uskudar municipality, one of several he executed with foreign cities he traveled to as borough president. He also visited Bahcesehir University, founded by the same Turkish philanthropist who founded Bay Atlantic University in Washington, D.C.

The FBI warrant for Suggs’s home also sought information about contributions from Bay Atlantic employees. Adams’s campaign filings show he received a total of $10,000 in contributions from five Bay Atlantic employees on September  27, 2021, a week after the unveiling of Turkevi Center, and refunded the donations the following month.

As recently as late last month, to honor the 100th anniversary of the Turkish republic, Adams presided over a flag-raising in Lower Manhattan and attended a celebration held at the Turkish consulate.

Now housed in the new, 35-story glass tower, the consulate was erected at the cost of nearly $300 million, a sum that drew criticism in Turkey in 2021, when students protested the high cost of housing. It is reportedly Turkey’s most expensive foreign mission. Its curving facade was inspired by the crescent on the Turkish flag, while its tulip-shaped top is a nod to the country’s national flower, according to the architecture firm that designed it. The building includes not only consular offices, but apartments, a prayer room, an exhibition space and an auditorium, according to its architects.

City records reveal problems for months before Mr. Erdogan’s visit in 2021 as Turkish government contractors sought to gain city approval to complete and occupy the building. On July 26, 2021, the Fire Department rejected the fire protection plan submitted by a consultant for the Turkish government, asking for changes. Around the same time, the Buildings Department issued a violation after a glass panel on the 17th floor fell off and plummeted 10 stories.

Only 10 days before Mr. Erdogan was to preside over the opening of the new building, a senior Fire Department official informed Sparc Fire Protection Engineering, a consultant on the building project, that the department would not object to a temporary certificate of occupancy that would allow the building to be used if the consultant affirmed that the alarm system complied with the city building code, the records show.

But a week later, on September  17, the consultant reported numerous “deficiencies” involving smoke detectors, elevators, fans, doors and other issues. Sparc’s president told the city that the building would be staffed with guards on “fire watch” until the problems were resolved. The building is still operating under a temporary certificate of occupancy, records show.

In a ceremony three days later, on Monday, September  20, Erdogan presented the new consulate to the public and the press, calling it “a masterpiece” that would be a haven for American Muslims.

In May of this year, after a man used a metal bar to shatter several of the consulate’s windows and threaten its security guards — an act the Turkish president called terrorism —Adams showed up in person to inspect the damage.

 

 

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