Adams starts legal defense fund amid probe of NYC campaign

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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Eric Adams set up a legal defense fund Friday as federal investigators conduct a public corruption probe focused on his 2021 campaign.

The fund, which will allow the mayor to accept donations outside the normal campaign cycle, is monitored by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, which posted a suite of documentation Friday on the new fundraising vehicle and was first reported by POLITICO.

The Eric Adams Legal Defense Trust, “is necessitated by, and intended to defray, legal expenses in connection with the inquiries by the office of United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York related to the operations of the Eric Adams 2021 mayoral campaign committee,” reads a signed affidavit from Adams dated Wednesday.

Adams will be able to take donations up to $5,000, per the law, and will have to report the names and address of contributors giving $100 to the Conflicts of Interest Board each quarter. Adams’ first report would be due Jan. 15.

But not everybody can give — the law bars Adams’ subordinates in government from donating, as well as anyone doing business with the city.

Federal investigators are looking for evidence the campaign colluded with the government of Turkey and accepted illegal donations from Turkish citizens routed through straw donors. While FBI agents conducted a series of raids and interviews Nov. 2, no one has been accused of wrongdoing.

Adams recently alluded to the idea that he might use campaign funds to pay for private legal representation from WilmerHale — the white-shoe firm that his previous chief counsel recently rejoined. However, Friday’s revelation indicates he will try to get at least some of the cash from new donors.

The trustee of the fund is Peter Aschkenasy, who chaired a nonprofit affiliated with the mayor’s previous role as Brooklyn borough president that helped boost Adams’ public profile ahead of his mayoral run.

A longtime restaurateur, Aschkenasy told POLITICO he does not expect to be involved with fundraising but is simply serving as a treasurer.

The law firm Pitta LLP, which did campaign finance compliance for Adams’ campaign, is also listed on documents creating the trust.

“After consultation with the Campaign Finance Board and the Conflicts of Interest Board, it was determined that a trust should be created for any legal expenses,” the firm’s co-managing partner Vito Pitta said in a statement.

A letter to Adams from the mayor’s corporation counsel, Sylvia Hinds-Radix, notes the creation of the fund negates the involvement of her office in the matter.

“Based on the information known to us at this time, the Office of the Corporation Counsel does not and will not represent you in your individual capacity in this investigation or in any future investigations or matters arising from this investigation, whether civil or criminal in nature,” she wrote.

This version of a legal defense fund was created by the New York City Council in 2019 as a way to allow elected officials with mounting legal bills to accept money in excess of the city’s $50 gift ban — a structure designed to discourage bribery.

At the time, former Mayor Bill de Blasio had run up a roughly $300,000 legal tab in connection to a federal investigation into his own political fundraising. He had expressed support for the idea of a legal defense fund but never set one up himself.

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