Four construction industry executives, a retired police inspector and an accountant who were equipped with advanced knowledge of campaign finance law were charged Friday with conspiring to funnel illegal donations to Mayor Eric Adams’ 2021 campaign.
The 27-count indictment accuses the defendants of trying to hide the source of thousands of dollars in donations by making them in the names of colleagues and relatives, and says the group sought influence and possibly city contracts. The indictment did not accuse Mr. Adams’ campaign or the mayor himself of misconduct, and there was nothing to suggest that he was aware of the scheme.
The district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, said in a statement that the defendants devised “a deliberate scheme to game the system in an obvious attempt to gain power.”
Prosecutors identified the defendants as Dwayne Montgomery, Shamsuddin Riza, Millicent Redick, Ronald Peek, Yahya Mushtaq and Shahid Mushtaq.
The indictment describes the brothers Yahya and Shahid Mushtaq as principals in a construction company called EcoSafety Consultants, which was also charged in the indictment. Mr. Riza, the principal of another construction company that was separately charged Friday, also worked with EcoSafety, the district attorney’s office said.
EcoSafety has been a city subcontractor since April 2021, according to records kept by the New York City Comptroller’s Office. During that time, the city paid it $470,000.
Mr. Montgomery, a retired police inspector, is related by marriage to Mr. Riza, for whom Ms. Redick worked as an accountant. Mr. Peek works at another construction safety company.
Scott Grauman, Shahid Mushtaq’s attorney who also represents EcoSafety, noted that his clients entered not guilty pleas Friday morning, and added: “We will vigorously defend against the charges.”
Alexei Grosshtern, a lawyer for Ms Redick, the accountant, said she knew only one co-defendant, Mr Riza, and added that his client was unaware of any scheme and was surprised by her arrest.
Lawyers for Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Riza could not immediately be reached for comment.
New York’s complex campaign finance law sits at the heart of the events outlined in the court documents. To lessen the influence of big donors and give less-connected candidates a push, New York occupations the first $250 of a resident’s donation. The defendants are accused of trying to disguise large donations by channeling them through straw donors. This enabled the campaign to garner more city funding, and may have strengthened the defendants’ influence with the incoming mayor.
It was unclear how much public money was spent as a result of the scheme.
On Friday, Evan Thies, a spokesman for Adams’ 2021 campaign, thanked prosecutors for “their hard work on behalf of taxpayers.”
“The campaign has always held itself to the highest standards and we would never tolerate these actions,” said Mr Thies. “The campaign will of course work with the DA’s office, the Campaign Finance Board and any relevant authorities.”
The defendants held two fundraisers for Mr. Adams, one in August 2020 and the other a year later. The second occurred after Mr. Adams won his primary, effectively securing his election as mayor of the heavily Democratic city.
For each fundraiser, according to prosecutors, the defendants recruited straw donors and then reimbursed them.
“I’ll put the money up for you,” Mr. Riza wrote to one relative, according to the indictment.
The defendants appeared to be aware that they were engaging in risky behavior.
“You’ve got to be careful because you’ve got to make sure you’re doing it through workers they trust, that’s not going to talk because remember a guy went to jail for that,” Mr. Peek told Mr. Riza at one point, according to the accusation
The defendants appeared hopeful that their donations would help them win contracts for a development project. In July of 2021, Mr. Riza forwarded an email to Mr. Montgomery promoting the project.
“Inform! This is the one I want, Safety, Drywall and Safety one project but we can all eat!” Mr. Riza wrote.
It is unclear whether Mr. Adams personally appeared at the fundraisers. But Mr. Montgomery told Mr. Riza that the mayor would be more likely if they could promise that a certain amount of money would be collected, a practice not uncommon among politicians.
Mr. Adams “doesn’t want to do anything unless he gets 25 Gs,” Mr. Montgomery said, according to the indictment.
Mr. Adams’ campaign said Mr. Montgomery appeared to be referring to the standard amount expected of hosts for a general election fundraiser.
In a July 2021 phone call, Mr. Riza told Mr. Peek: “I know what the campaign finance laws are. Make sure it’s $1,000 in your name and $1,000 in another person’s name because the matching funds are eight -to-one, so $2,000 is $16,000.”