Eric Adams Campaign Ignored Warnings About Donations That Triggered FBI Probe

Eric Adams Campaign Ignored Warnings About Donations That Triggered FBI Probe

By Yoav GonenGeorge Joseph, and Bianca Pallaro | November 2, 2023

Internal documents obtained by THE CITY show that city regulators repeatedly asked Eric Adams’ mayoral campaign about a cluster of donations that are now part of a federal probe into one of the mayor’s top fundraisers.

The investigation, which triggered an FBI raid at the home of Adams’ campaign operative Brianna Suggs on Thursday, is examining contributions to the mayor’s 2021 campaign that came from employees of KSK Construction Company, a Brooklyn-based firm whose founders hail from Turkey, according to The New York Times.

The Times reported that the federal government is looking into whether the Adams team worked with the construction company and the Turkish government to inject foreign money into the campaign using straw donors — people listed as having donated but who did not actually contribute or who were reimbursed for their donations.

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Adams, who is not known to be a target of the probe, has said he’s traveled to Turkey at least a half dozen times, including twice over a five-month span in 2015 when he served as Brooklyn Borough President.

The KSK Construction employees donated at a May 7, 2021 fundraiser organized by an owner of the company, Erden Arkan, which was held at the home of Abraham Erdos in Brooklyn. Erdos, who was listed in Adams campaign finance filings as “retired,” had donated $2,000 to Adams’ mayoral campaign a year earlier.

In total, the event raised $69,720 for Adams’ mayoral campaign from 84 donors, and the campaign used those donations to seek $63,760 in public matching funds, according to campaign documents obtained by THE CITY.

KSK did not respond to requests for comment via phone and email. But when contacted by THE CITY Thursday, multiple people listed in Adams 2021 campaign donation records as KSK employees either said they did not donate to Eric Adams or refused to state whether they had ever donated.

Sertac Varol, a Queens resident whose name appears in campaign records, told THE CITY that he did not recall donating to the Eric Adams campaign, and that he doesn’t believe he has ever donated to a political campaign in his life.

Abigal Nitka, a woman listed as a KSK engineer and lawyer, told THE CITY, “We’re innocent,” after declining to respond to questions.

Reached by phone, KSK employee Murat Mermer responded, “I don’t wanna comment.”

Arkan, an owner of KSK Construction, gave $1,500 to Adams’ campaign at the May 7, 2021, fundraiser, records show. He didn’t respond to a message sent via LinkedIn seeking comment, and an attorney who represented him in a recent real estate lawsuit didn’t respond to an email sent late Thursday.

KSK Construction is described in a construction publication as a 20-year-old spin-off of Kiska Construction, where Arkan and some of his partners previously worked. Kiska has been involved in a number of mammoth building projects across the city, according to the firm’s LinkedIn page, including the replacement of the Third Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River and creating the first section of the High Line park in Manhattan’s Chelsea.

Records from New York City’s Campaign Finance Board show that board staff asked the Adams’ campaign six times over five months to explain who had connected the Adams campaign with 10 donations from KSK Construction employees totaling $12,700, all made at the May 2021 event weeks before Adams’ victory in the mayoral Democratic primary.

Campaigns are obligated to respond to such CFB inquiries within 30 days and explain their sources of funds, according to a Campaign Finance Board webinar. But in each instance, the Adams campaign failed to respond.

In a text message to THE CITY, Evan Thies, Adams’ 2021 campaign spokesperson, defended his team’s conduct. “As we have discussed extensively, contributors to campaign-sponsored events do not have intermediaries,” said Thies.

He added, regarding the board’s inquiries: “None of those inquiries were flagged as possible straw donors. The inquiries were about possible unreported intermediaries, of which there were none required to be reported. The campaign appropriately responded to each and every flag made by the CFB as required.”

previous investigation by THE CITY identified multiple straw donors to the Adams campaign, who were listed in campaign records as workers at the New World Mall in Queens and A&C Appliances, a local chain. The purported donors told THE CITY that they did not donate or were paid back for their contributions.

Last week, two brothers who run a construction company in Queens pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge stemming from a straw donor scheme that was uncovered by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

The brothers are currently cooperating with the Manhattan DA’s office, which is still seeking to prosecute several Adams’ campaign donors, including Dwayne Montgomery, a former NYPD deputy inspector who has known the mayor socially for years going back to their time together on the force.

Adams remarked on the federal probe as he presided over a Día de Muertos event at Gracie Mansion Thursday night.

“I hold my campaign to the highest ethical standards. Any inquiry that is done, we’re going to fully participate and make sure that it’s done correctly. I have not been contacted by anyone from any law enforcement agency.”

“That’s why I came back from D.C., to be here, to be on the ground and look at this inquiry as it is made.”

Additional reporting by Katie Honan.

This story was published by THE CITY on November 2, 2023.

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