Mayor Eric Adams meets with Hilmi Türkmen, mayor of Uskudar, Turkey at City Hall on Friday, May 13, 2022.
Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
The news that the FBI executed a search warrant on the home of Brianna Suggs, the chief fundraiser for Mayor Eric Adams’s campaign operation Thursday morning, sent shockwaves through the city political scene. But what prompted even more questions was the apparent reason for the raid. The New York Times reported that the FBI, in concert with Manhattan federal prosecutors, are investigating whether Adams’s 2021 mayoral campaign conspired with the Turkish government and a Brooklyn construction company to funnel illegal contributions to the campaign in an apparent straw donor scheme. Investigators are also reportedly looking into whether anyone involved received kickbacks.
Adams, who has not been accused of wrongdoing by authorities, said Thursday that he plans to fully participate in the inquiry, adding that “I hold my campaign to the highest ethical standards.”
Over the years, Adams has highlighted what he once called his “special connection” to the city’s significant Turkish population and his love of, and many visits to, Turkey. Here’s what we know about Adams’s past dealings with the country and the Turkish community.
Over the course of his political career, Adams has gone on numerous foreign trips, from Israel to Qatar during the FIFA World Cup to China. He has also repeatedly traveled to Turkey, recently bragging that “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.”
In late 2014, while serving as Brooklyn Borough President, Adams reportedly told a group of Turkish American community leaders that he’d never been to Turkey but was planning to visit soon. Here are the trips we know about since then:
Adams traveled to Istanbul on the apparent dime of the Turkish consulate, which according to disclosures to the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board paid up to $4,999 for Adams’ transportation, flight, and lodgings. A report from The City indicates it’s not clear who else may have helped pay for the trip. Adams was accompanied by his legal counsel Ama Dwimoh; then-staff volunteer Rana Abbasova, who now works in the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs; and Adams’s longtime friend and advisor, former NYPD inspector Tim Pearson:
A portion of that trip … was initially said to be paid by Bahcesehir University — to the tune of about $6,000. Adams’ legal counsel then and now, Ama Dwimoh, later told the city Conflicts of Interest Board that the flights — including a business class seat for Adams — would be paid for by Turkish Airlines. But a Conflicts of Interest Board approval letter identified Bahcesehir University as one of the funders of the $15,000 trip, along with Turkish Airlines, the “Turkish Culture and Promotion Office in New York,” and local municipal governments.
A request for clarification with the mayor’s office sent late Friday about who funded the trip wasn’t immediately responded to.
The borough president then returned to Turkey on a trip funded by The World Tourism Foundation, which hosted Adams for a tourism conference in Antalya. The City reports that Adams was again accompanied by Dwimoh and Abbasova, and that most of the trip’s more than $14,000 in costs were paid for by the Association of Young Tourism Leaders. (It’s not clear if that organization and the World Tourism Foundation are affiliated.) Per The City:
Adams also met on that December 2015 trip with Semsettin Aydin, owner of Baysas Construction, whose company was initially slated to cover $2,150 in trip expenses. But that portion was covered by a separate entity at the last moment, the documents show. According to a local Turkish report at the time, Adams told Aydin that he wanted to introduce him to Brooklyn contractors.
Adams also visited the Nizip Syrian refugee camp near Turkey’s southern border on the trip. In an interview with The Daily Sabah, the borough president heaped praise on Turkey for how it was handling Syrian refugees and called for the U.S. and Europe to aid the country in its efforts.
Two years later, Adams apparently made another visit to Turkey as part of a monthlong trip abroad with his son, according to Politico. In late July of that year, The Daily Sabah published an interview with Adams, who the publication said had met with them on his fifth trip to the country. Adams reportedly told them he was planning to buy a home in Istanbul.
One of the companies raided by federal authorities on Thursday was the Brooklyn-based KSK Construction Group, whose founders reportedly hail from Turkey. The company has not been charged with wrongdoing, but a number of KSK employees made donations to Adams’s 2021 mayoral campaign at a private fundraiser in May 2021, and the Adams campaign apparently ignored multiple inquiries from the city’s Campaign Finance Board about some of the donations. The City reports:
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. …
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.
Asked to comment on the ignored inquires by The City, Adams’s 2021 campaign spokesperson Evan Thies said that:
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.
The Times reports that the investigators who searched Suggs’ home were looking for documents related to Bay Atlantic University, a private Turkish-owned non-profit university located in Washington, D.C. The institution was founded in 2014.
In August 2015, Adams visited the university’s sister school in Istanbul, Bahcesehir University. The City reports that Adams had lunch with university officials and “was presented with an ‘honorary faculty member’ plaque and provided with documentation regarding a scholarship that was being awarded to two students — one in his name and another in the name of the borough of Brooklyn.” Bahcesehir University may also have been one of the Turkish entities which helped pay for his trip to Turkey.
The City also reports that December of 2015, Adams met in Turkey with Enver Yucel, the president of BAU Global, the organization which founded both Bahcesehir University and Bay Atlantic University.
Two months before the 2021 general election, Adams’s mayoral campaign received five $2,000 donations from then-employees of Bay Atlantic University. The donations were made at September 18, 2021 fundraiser, but according to campaign records, were refunded 17 days later. Per The City:
The donations took place well after Adams had won the Democratic primary in June and was comfortably leading his Republican opponent Curtis Sliwa in polls. When asked why those donations were returned, Evan Thies, Adams’ 2021 campaign spokesperson said in a text message to THE CITY, “The campaign had raised more money than it could spend.” But campaign records show they accepted and did not return other contributions in the weeks that followed.
One of the would-be donors, Bay Atlantic University president Sinem Vatanartiran, told The City through a spokesperson that:
I personally supported the mayor, so I donated to him, but by the time my contribution was received, I was told his campaign had reached the maximum public finance limits, and my check was returned. I understand this also happened to several of my former colleagues who are no longer with BAU but also personally supported the mayor’s campaign and had donations returned.
The City reports that the donations were later scrutinized by the Campaign Finance Board, but their inquiries to the Adams campaign apparently went unanswered.
As mayor, Adams has shown a fondness for flag-raising ceremonies where he honors a particular nation and their city community by having their flag flown at Bowling Green Park. In a twist of irony, the most recent country recognized by City Hall was Turkey on October 22 ahead of the nation’s Republic Day. The Adams administration also raised the Turkish flag on October 29, 2021 — which Adams emphasized was a first for any New York City mayor.
Though the ongoing inquiry seems to be focused on contributions to Adams’s mayoral campaign, he has received support from the Turkish-American community dating back to his time as borough president.
CNN reports that Turkish-American supporters of his campaign hosted a fundraiser at Ali Baba Mediterranean and Turkish Cuisine in Kips Bay in July of 2018. The restaurant’s owner, Aliriza Dogan, hosted another fundraiser in August 2021 that took in almost $21,000 for the Adams campaign. Dogan was honored at the flag-raising ceremony for Turkey that the mayor’s office held last month.
During his August 2015 trip to Turkey, Adams signed sister city agreements with the mayors of two districts of Istanbul, Beşiktaş and Üsküdar. He announced at the time that “Brooklyn is America’s Üsküdar.”
Üsküdar’s mayor, Hilmi Türkmen, has visited City Hall since Adams became mayor himself.
In September, Adams attended a “Path to Global Zero Waste Movement” event during the United Nation’s General Assembly. At the event, Adams praised Emine Erdoğan, the wife of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for her work in environmental action. The Turkish news outlet Andolu Agency reports:
“We have two mothers. One gave birth to us and the other sustained (us), and what the first lady is doing is stating it clearly,” said Adams.
“We cannot continue to produce the highest level of emissions and disruptive behavior to the planet,” he said, adding “I thank you for your vision, for your wisdom and understanding that we have an obligation to sustain the life of the mother.”
When he was Brooklyn Borough President, Adams had a cameo role in the 2017 romantic comedy New York Masalı (“Fairytale of New York”) which was billed as the first Turkish film ever shot entirely in New York City and the U.S.
In a brief scene, during which Adams is apparently playing a version of himself, two of the film’s characters walk out of a building with Adams and ask him in Turkish for favors — one wants to add a floor to their home, and the other is trying to get a permit for a restaurant. Adams responds that he can’t understand what they are saying since he doesn’t speak Turkish, but recognizes that they are from Turkey and tells them that “Brooklyn loves Turkey” and “Brooklyn is the Istanbul of America.” Then they all take a selfie.