Politico

Adams omitted use of politically connected lawyer's office on campaign records


NEW YORK — Eric Adams, the leading candidate for mayor of New York, has been periodically using office space occupied by the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s law firm since January 2020 without disclosing the relationship in campaign finance filings.

The transaction, confirmed by his campaign, raises new questions about Adams’ transparency and sheds light on how he has operated ahead of the June 22 Democratic primary to replace outgoing mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Brooklyn borough president heads into Tuesday as the candidate to beat in what’s winnowed to a four-person race — but he’s facing an unfamiliar threat at the dawn of ranked-choice voting in New York City.

Kathryn Garcia and Andrew Yang — both still competing in the top tier of Democratic candidates — formed a late alliance as they headed into the crucial final weekend of the campaign. The new system allows voters to rank five candidates in order of preference, and Garcia and Yang hope to capture each other’s voters for second place as a bulwark against Adams.

The Adams campaign, recognizing the threat, decried the move as an unprincipled “backroom deal.”

Despite his momentum, Adams heads to primary day amid a swirl of questions over his financial disclosures and the opacity of his political operation. He and his campaign have struggled to provide records on multiple transactions, including his taxes and his real estate holdings. POLITICO reported this month that Adams has been keeping unusual hours at Brooklyn Borough Hall and his campaign offered a confusing and evolving account of where he lays his head outside of the government building.

As part of the examination of Adams’ living and working arrangements, POLITICO found he dialed into several virtual campaign events from what appeared to be the law offices of Abrams Fensterman attorney Frank Carone, who also serves as counsel for the Brooklyn Democratic party and as Adams’ personal lawyer.

The campaign confirmed the use of the space last week, and Adams subsequently discussed the payments to Carone at a press conference outside his Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone.

“We are using space and the accountant,” Adams said at the briefing, which included a tour of his basement apartment intended to prove his Brooklyn residency. “They worked out the details, but it’s just a small space that we use when it’s needed.”

But payments to Abrams Fensterman — a politically connected law firm that has represented a client who lobbied Adams — did not appear in public filings released days later.

Campaign adviser Evan Thies said that the payments didn’t show up because Adams’ camp had not yet received a bill. He added that Carone’s support of Adams has been widely known, and the campaign has hired Abrams Fensterman for other tasks.

The campaign subsequently provided an invoice dated June 15 — the same day POLITICO asked for documentation. The transaction dated back to January 2020. The $680 bill indicates Adams rented cubicles and other small spaces in the firm’s offices for as little as $1.80 an hour over the course of the last year and a half.

Carone said he often makes his office at Brooklyn’s MetroTech office campus available for others to use.

“My office is like my house — it is open to my friends,” he said. “In this case, because he is running for public office, we had to document it.”

There was no formal rental agreement, Carone said. Instead, he went through his firm’s schedules to find out when Adams used the facilities for Zoom appearances and other campaign purposes and used a formula derived from his overall office rent to come up with the invoice.

The Adams campaign initially said the rental payments were not reflected in filings with the Campaign Finance Board because the money had likely been mixed into an unrelated payment to the law firm. Abrams Fensterman had also handled the campaign’s petitions — the signatures any candidate must collect to appear on the ballot — and was paid $7,500 for the service in March.

Carone said this week that the invoice represented the total amount due for the use of the space.

All told, Adams has spent $32,800 on office space elsewhere, as of the latest filing with the city’s Campaign Finance Board. The payment to Carone was not included in any of the disclosures over the last year and a half.

While Adams never received the endorsement of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, which has been plagued with infighting, he has a strong relationship with party brass.

Party chair and state Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn backed Adams’ run in March. Adams hired the consulting firm of Bichotte Hermelyn’s husband, paying the company nearly $50,000 over the course of the race. Adams has also received $29,000 in campaign contributions from Carone’s neighborhood of Mill Basin, according to data from the Campaign Finance Board. It was the highest concentration of any district in the city.

Adams’ opponents on the campaign trail have assailed what they see as a series of ethical lapses — a recent line of attack hammered by Andrew Yang and Maya Wiley.

Wiley on Thursday devoted an afternoon press conference to calling out her rival over a lack of financial transparency, citing a recent report that he didn’t disclose a Brooklyn property he co-owns and his failure so far to release amended tax returns. POLITICO reported in April that between 2017 through 2019, Adams reported taking in up to $50,000 a year in rent from the Bed-Stuy he owns, but he made no mention of that to the IRS.

“It is time and appropriate for New Yorkers to say, if you want to be the most powerful person in the city, show this city that you can manage your financial affairs if you want to manage a $90 billion budget,” Wiley said Thursday. “It’s time we got answers from Eric Adams.”

Téa Kvetenadze and Sally Goldenberg contributed reporting

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