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NYC charges 6 in straw donor scheme to help elect Adams as mayor

Six people were charged Friday in an alleged scheme to divert tens of thousands of dollars in public money to New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ campaign months before his election.

The indictment, announced by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, does not implicate Adams or other current city employees in the upended plot.

Rather, it describes a straw donor conspiracy orchestrated by people with business before the city who hoped to maximize their donations in exchange for political favors.

Among the defendants are a former NYPD commander who has known the mayor for decades and the owners of a construction safety business that’s currently working on a trash depot on Staten Island.

‘We allege a deliberate scheme to game the system in a blatant attempt to gain power,’ Bragg said in a statement. ‘The New York City Campaign Finance Board program is meant to support our democracy and amplify the voices of New York City voters. When the integrity of that program is corrupted, all New Yorkers suffer.’

Prosecutors said the effort to illegally structure donations was led by Dwayne Montgomery, a former NYPD inspector currently listed as the director of integrity for the Teamsters Local 237, which represents municipal workers.

Montgomery is accused of recruiting friends and relatives to take advantage of the city’s generous matching funds system, which provides an eight-to-one match for the first $250 donated by a city resident.

He allegedly orchestrated more than two dozens straw donations between 2020 and 2021, while also helping to organize fundraisers for Adams. It’s not clear how much money was ultimately steered to the campaign.

Evan Thies, a spokesperson for mayor’s campaign, acknowledged that Adams knew Montgomery ‘socially,’ noting the two served in the NYPD together and later worked on criminal justice issues. However, he denied that the campaign had any knowledge of the scheme.

The indictment also names Shamsuddin Riza, Millicent Redick, and Ronald Peek as helping to organize the illegal donations. Yahya Mushtaq and Shahid Mushtaq, the leaders of EcoSafety Consultants, a construction company with active city contracts, are named as well.

Although New York’s campaign finance rules bar those with business before the city from donating more than $400, prosecutors say the defendants devised a scheme to donate to the campaign under the names of EcoSafety’s employees, without their knowledge.

‘You could use a straw man,’ Riza allegedly told Yahya Mushtaq during a phone call. ‘Whoever’s on the LLC or the incorporation, those are the people that do business with the city. Anybody else is an employee, the employees don’t fall under that criteria.’

Riza, who owns a construction company and was previously charged with falsifying business records, also allegedly indicated that he was hoping to secure work from the city.

‘FYI ! This is the one I want , Safety , Drywall , and Security one project but we all can eat,’ Riza wrote in a July 2021 email to Montgomery in which he sent along the information for a construction project called Vital Brooklyn, prosecutors allege.

A City Hall spokesperson said Adams never discussed city business with any of the defendants, though he said it was likely the mayor and Montgomery had spoken about other matters in passing.

All of the defendants face charges of conspiracy, attempted grand larceny, and making false statements.

Muhammad Ikhlas, a lawyer for Riza, said his client pleaded not guilty on Friday and was released on his own recognizance. He declined to discuss the case further.

Scott Grauman, a lawyer for Shahid Mushtaq and Ecosafety Consultants, Inc., said they would ‘vigorously defend against these charges.’

Lawyers for the other defendants didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Thies, the campaign spokesperson, pledged to work with the campaign finance board and the district attorney as the case proceeds.

‘The campaign always held itself to the highest standards and we would never tolerate these actions,’ he said.

Adams has previously faced scrutiny over his fundraising practices. Earlier this year, he was fined $20,000 by the Campaign Finance Board for violating their rules on accepting donations from people with business before the city and failing to hand over paperwork in a timely manner.

Susan Lerner, the executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause New York, said it was too soon to know if Adams had acted improperly. But she said the indictment was evidence that the city’s public financing system was working as intended.

‘The campaign finance system we have in New York City deliberately makes it harder for people who want to buy influence,’ Lerner said. ‘The lesson here is do not try to game the system because you will be caught.’

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