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8 Things to Know About The FBI Investigation Into Eric Adams’ Campaign

A guide to understanding the FBI's investigation into Mayor Eric Adams' campaign fraud and his dealings with Special Advisor Winnie Greco.

April Xu

Feb 29, 2024

City Hall Asian Affairs advisor Winnie Greco speaks with Mayor Eric Adams at a community event in Flushing, May 31, 2023. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and his campaign are under scrutiny following the FBI’s seizing his phones and documents from the home of one of his chief fundraisers, in relation to a corruption investigation. Those investigations involve a campaign finance violation called a “straw donation,” which Documented and THE CITY have examined in a series of stories. This guide explains eight key aspects you should know about straw donation schemes, the FBI’s investigation into Eric Adams’ campaign, the FBI raid on the home of his advisor Winnie Greco, and key findings from our previous reporting.

What is a straw donation?

A straw donation is a term used to describe a situation where someone makes a donation to a political campaign or organization on behalf of another person or entity with the intent to circumvent legal limits on contributions or to conceal the true source of the funds. 

According to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, contribution limits apply to all campaigns, whether or not the candidate joins the matching funds program. The maximum individual donation for a candidate who runs for mayor, public advocate, or comptroller and participates in the matching funds program is $2100. But by employing a straw donation scheme, for example, if an individual has already donated $2100 to a candidate for his or her 2025 mayoral campaign, they might give additional money to friends, family members, or employees, who would then donate that money to the candidate.

Also Read: Behind a Chinatown Real Estate Deal, a Web of Shifting Alliances and Political Connections

Are straw donations legal?

This practice is illegal in many jurisdictions, including New York City, because it undermines transparency and accountability in political financing.

In 2022, New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin stepped down from his position following charges of bribery and fraud related to an alleged straw donor scheme, first exposed by THE CITY. In 2013, the New York City Campaign Finance Board imposed a fine of over $26,000 on mayoral candidate John Liu, who currently serves as a New York State senator, for campaign finance violations linked to a straw donor scheme. This scandal resulted in the incarceration of one of his aides and one of his key fundraisers.

Now, the Adams campaign is being scrutinized for the same thing. The FBI is currently investigating whether Mayor Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign collaborated with a Brooklyn construction firm, KSK Construction Group, and the Turkish government to funnel foreign funds into the campaign through a straw donor scheme. Additionally, Documented, THE CITY and The Guardian US have uncovered multiple instances of straw donors and their reimbursers associated with Mayor Adams’ 2021 and 2025 mayoral campaigns.

What is the 8-to-1 matching fund program and how can it be exploited?

The small-dollar public matching funds program helps candidates rely on New York City residents — not special interests — to fund their campaigns. The voluntary program matches small contributions from NYC residents, allowing candidates who participate to receive up to $2,000 in public funds per eligible contributor. The program gives a greater voice to New York City residents and allows a broader spectrum of candidates to run for office, giving voters more choices at the polls.

Also Read: New Questions Arise Over Adams Donors: One Says She Was Reimbursed, Others Say They Never Gave

Under this program, qualifying candidates who raise a certain amount of money from small donors receive matching funds from the government at a predetermined ratio, 8-to-1, effectively multiplying the value of each donation. For example, a $10 contribution from a NYC resident to a participating candidate in the 2021 election could be worth as much as $90 to their campaign.

Exploitation of the 8-to-1 matching fund program can occur through various means by allowing campaigns to access public funds based on fraudulent or illicit contributions, such as straw donor schemes and false reporting. For example, campaigns may use straw donors to funnel illicit contributions into their coffers, which are then matched by government funds.

Which controversies is the Adams campaign involved in?

Suspicions of straw donations spurred the indictment by the Manhattan District Attorney of a fundraising group involved in Adams’ 2021 race, which has led to two guilty pleas, and is part of an ongoing federal investigation into whether they’ve been used to veil illegal donations from the Turkish government.

Last August, THE CITY and Documented reported other instances of questionable contributions that his campaign submitted for public matching funds. There were two clusters of contributions involving at least 127 people and totaling at least $39,938 to Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign. One includes numerous donations, mostly from October 2019, from the employees and associates of a New York City-based appliance chain, AC & Appliances Center. 

Also Read: Mayor Eric Adams Has “No Idea” Why His Son Was at an Event With Chinatown Developers

The other centers on employees at The New World Mall, a shopping center in Flushing, and Jmart, an Asian-American grocery chain, who purportedly gave between April and August 2021. Expenditure records show that throughout his campaign, Adams paid $50,093 for eight fundraising events with hundreds of supporters held at the Royal Queen restaurant on the top floor of the mall. One woman, a low-wage worker at the New World Mall in Flushing, Queens, said that in the summer of 2021, her boss had asked her to bring her checkbook to work. The next day, she recalled, she was told to sign a check for $249, unaware it was for the campaign of then mayoral candidate Eric Adams. Immediately afterwards, a stranger, whom her bosses knew, reimbursed her with cash — making the “contribution,” an illegal donation.

Who is Winnie Greco and who else is involved?

Last October, Documented revealed many connections between Winnie Greco, Special Advisor to the Mayor and Director of Asian Affairs, and Wade Li, the president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of New York, the association affiliated with the redevelopment of the iconic East Broadway Mall in Chinatown. The building is changing hands, but questions have arisen among former operators and tenants regarding the new leadership of Broadway East Group, the developer that now holds the contract. Wade Li appeared at an event hosted by the Lee On Dong Association in San Francisco last March. Li was joined by the mayor’s son Jordan Coleman and Greco, who presented an official proclamation on behalf of the Mayor’s Office during the event. The New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services approved the transfer from the previous leaseholders shortly after Li hosted a fundraiser on June 8th for Adams at his restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown. According to reporting from THE CITY, on June 8, 64 donors contributed $108,808 to Adams’ campaign, many of them giving $2,098.

Last November, the home of Brianna Suggs, Mayor Adams’ top campaign fundraiser and a former lobbyist for Chinatown developers, was raided by the FBI as part of a corruption investigation.

Last November, THE CITY reported that the city’s Department of Investigation has opened an inquiry into Mayor Eric Adams’ Director of Asian Affairs, Winnie Greco, about allegations she used her position in the Adams’ administration for personal gain. 

This February, an investigation by THE CITY, Documented and The Guardian US finds evidence of new instances of an illegal practice at the center of law enforcement probes of the mayor’s political contributions. Three Chinese contributors to Mayor Eric Adams’ 2025 re-election campaign recounted in interviews how they or their spouses were reimbursed for a total of more than $10,000 in five donations by hotel and construction executives in violation of state law. 

Also Read: Donors to Adams’ 2025 Campaign Say They Were Secretly Reimbursed Thousands of Dollars

Three reimbursements were linked to the owners, Weihong Hu and her husband Xiaozhuang Ge, of a hotel in Fresh Meadows, Queens, where the mayor’s director of Asian Affairs, Winnie Greco, lived for a number of months in late 2022 into early 2023. During that time, the site was operating under a city government subcontract as a shelter for formerly incarcerated individuals. City Hall said Greco paid for her stay with her own money. The campaign donors each said they were paid back in cash or by check, for contributions of $2,000 or $2,098 and were made last year.

Another Adams donor, Sunny Yau, an employee for a heating and air conditioning company in The Bronx, said that he and his wife were reimbursed by his “boss” for contributions of $2,098 they each made last May. The employee declined to name his boss, but state records list the CEO of the small firm, SB HVAC Services Corp., as a Queens businesswoman named Hung Yau, who also donated to Adams.

Who is Brianna Suggs?

Brianna Suggs, 25, was Mayor Adams’ top campaign fundraiser and former lobbyist for the East Broadway Mall’s previous operation. Initially an intern at Adams’ Brooklyn Borough Hall office, she later transitioned to a commission-based role within the mayor’s reelection team, earning $279,836 between February 2022 and November 2023.

Also Read: Who is Brianna Suggs? Mayor Adams’ Top Fundraiser Investigated by FBI for Corruption

During her tenure, Suggs successfully raised $18.4 million for Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign and over $2.7 million for his 2025 reelection bid. Suggs is also a lobbyist, with her only client listed in New York State lobbying disclosure data being East Broadway Mall Inc., the previous operator of the East Broadway Mall, located in Chinatown. In 2022, Suggs was lobbying the Adams administration on behalf of East Broadway Mall to assist with the lease renewal process with the city while simultaneously fundraising for Adams’ campaign, leading to ethical concerns.

On November 2, 2023, Suggs’ Brooklyn home was raided by the FBI as part of a public corruption investigation. This probe aimed to determine if Mayor Adams’ 2021 campaign colluded with both the Turkish government and a construction company in Brooklyn to funnel foreign funds into the campaign. Later in November, Suggs was relieved of her duties and assigned clerical tasks following the federal raid.

How has Mayor Adams reacted to all these controversies?

The mayor and his campaign asserted that the campaign always diligently follows all laws and rules on the collection of contributions, and also explicitly instructs campaign staff, volunteers, and contributors how to follow the laws. 

Adams has maintained that he and his campaign have operated with integrity and transparency. In response to the controversies and investigations into his campaign, he has emphasized his commitment to cooperating fully with authorities and allowing the investigative process to unfold.

As for why his son attended an out-of-state event with real estate developers who now own the Chinatown East Broadway Mall, Adams said he “has no idea.” A representative of the mayor’s campaign has decried the use of straw donations generally and said that if any were made to Adams 2025, they had eluded a vetting procedure designed to flag illegal gifts.

Do these findings pose a threat to Adams legally and politically?

As of the publication of the guide, there were no reports of Mayor Adams being found guilty in relation to any investigations into his campaign. However, The findings from the investigations into Eric Adams’ campaign could potentially pose legal and political threats to him.

Legally, if evidence is uncovered that demonstrates illegal activities or violations of campaign finance laws, Adams and others involved could face legal consequences such as criminal charges, fines, or other penalties. This could depend on the severity of the alleged wrongdoing and the strength of the evidence gathered by investigators.

Politically, the controversies surrounding Adams’ campaign could damage his reputation and credibility, leading to a loss of public trust and support. If the investigations reveal unethical behavior or misconduct, it could have repercussions for his political career, including potential challenges in future elections or campaigns for higher office.

April Xu

April Xu is an award-winning bilingual journalist with over 9 years of experience covering the Chinese community in New York City.

@KEXU3

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