By Kara Scannell and Gloria Pazmino, CNN
(CNN) — FBI agents seized the cell phones of New York City Mayor Eric Adams as part of a federal investigation into campaign fundraising, a person familiar with the matter told CNN on Friday.
The agents seized the phones and an iPad earlier this week pursuant to a court authorized search warrant, the person said.
The seizure is a dramatic escalation of the federal probe into whether foreign money was funneled to his campaign, bringing it directly to the mayor, a Democrat. The investigation is being handled by the FBI and the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. Adams has not been accused of any wrongdoing so far, but he is the latest politician to come under scrutiny for ties to foreign governments – in his case Turkey.
The seizure came days after the FBI raided the home of Adams’ chief fundraiser as part of the investigation to determine whether the mayor’s 2021 campaign conspired with a Brooklyn-based construction company to funnel foreign money into campaign coffers.
The New York Times first reported the seizure of Adams’ electronic devices. To obtain a search warrant, prosecutors would need to convince a judge that they have probable cause that there is evidence of a crime on the electronic devices.
“As a former member of law enforcement, I expect all members of my staff to follow the law and fully cooperate with any sort of investigation — and I will continue to do exactly that,” the mayor said in a statement to CNN on Friday. “I have nothing to hide.”
The US attorney’s office and the FBI declined to comment.
Adams’ campaign attorney and spokesperson, Boyd Johnson, told CNN the mayor “immediately complied with the FBI’s request and provided them with electronic devices” after the FBI approached Adams following an event Monday night.
“After learning of the federal investigation, it was discovered that an individual had recently acted improperly. In the spirit of transparency and cooperation, this behavior was immediately and proactively reported to investigators,” Johnson said.
“The mayor has not been accused of any wrongdoing and continues to cooperate with the investigation,” he added.
The mayor delivered a speech at New York University’s Kimmel Center Monday, according to his public schedule. Afterwards, FBI agents approached Adams on the street and “walked right up to him,” two sources close to the mayor told CNN.
According to the sources, the agents asked his NYPD security detail to step aside. They then climbed into Adams’ city-issued SUV and presented him with a warrant to seize his electronic devices.
The mayor typically reads public remarks from an iPad and carries two phones. All three devices were turned over to the FBI, the sources said.
After the FBI raided the home of his top fundraiser on November 2, Adams said he had immediately ordered a review of campaign records to determine whether anyone “had acted improperly.”
Sources told CNN that review resulted in both campaign and City Hall lawyers finding evidence that “one person” had acted improperly. The sources declined to comment on who the person was or what kind of role they played in the campaign.
Lawyers subsequently provided the information about their findings to investigators.
“It looks like they used that information to draw up a warrant and obtain his devices,” the sources said.
That same night, upon returning home, Adams reviewed another set of electronics and devices and informed law enforcement he would turn those over to them as well. The sources described the devices as “old phones.”
Probe centers on alleged foreign campaign contributions
Teams of FBI agents executed “numerous search warrants” at homes and businesses throughout the New York area on November 2, including one at the home of chief fundraiser for Adams’ campaign, Brianna Suggs, multiple law enforcement sources told CNN.
Law enforcement officials who are familiar with last week’s search warrants told CNN the investigators are seeking evidence that foreign nationals – who are barred from making contributions – may have “bundled” donations by going into New York’s Turkish American communities and getting US citizens of Turkish origin to act as “straw contributors.”
The alleged scheme would have allowed money coming from foreign business entities to be masked as donations from American citizens who did not actually donate the money.
Adams defended his campaign to reporters on Wednesday after news broke of the raid.
“It would really shock me if someone that was hired by my campaign did something that’s inappropriate. Not only would shock me, it would hurt me,” Adams said.
The mayor has touted his ties to the city’s Turkish American community and noted at a recent flag-raising ceremony in Lower Manhattan that he had visited the country at least six or seven times.
Adams traveled to Turkey at least twice as Brooklyn Borough president. The Turkish Consulate paid for an August 2015 trip during which he signed a sister city agreement with Istanbul’s Üsküdar district.
The same US attorney’s office in September charged Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, with corruption-related offenses, alleging he took bribes in exchange for aiding the Egyptian government. Menendez pleaded not guilty to the charges.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
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