A recent college graduate, Brianna Suggs was an unusual choice to run Eric Adams’s big-money fund-raising operation as he campaigned for mayor.
The choice was unconventional: Eric Adams, the candidate who would go on to win the 2021 election for mayor of the nation’s financial capital, had picked an inexperienced 23-year-old to run his campaign’s fund-raising operation.
Ostensibly, the fund-raiser, Brianna Suggs, did her job. Thanks in part to her work, the campaign would spend more than $18 million and win the election.
But the unusual arrangement, which raised eyebrows in the tight-knit, professional world of Democratic political fund-raising, might have come at an extraordinary cost.
On Thursday morning, federal agents raided Ms. Suggs’s home in Brooklyn and walked away with a wide range of materials, including three iPhones, two laptop computers and a manila folder labeled “Eric Adams.” The court-authorized search was part of an expansive public corruption investigation into whether the campaign conspired with the government of Turkey to receive illegal foreign donations.
Neither Ms. Suggs nor Mr. Adams has been accused of any wrongdoing. Mr. Adams has denied any knowledge of improper fund-raising, and said in a statement that his campaign would “work with officials to respond to inquiries, as appropriate — as we always have.”
Ms. Suggs, now 25, has not spoken publicly since the pre-dawn raid, and could not be reached for comment.
Interviews with nearly 20 people who know and have dealt with Ms. Suggs, most of whom requested anonymity so as to avoid alienating the mayor, portray an inexperienced young woman whose connections gave her access to the incoming mayor and his wealthy donors, a heady combination.
Mr. Adams has a habit of elevating loyalists to important positions, but Ms. Suggs appears to be the youngest member of that insular coterie. And her privileged position within the Adams orbit now has embroiled her in a sprawling criminal investigation with an uncertain outcome.
Ms. Suggs’s house in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was raided by federal agents, who took out a folder labeled “Eric Adams.”Credit…Stephanie Keith for The New York Times
“Often, young African American ladies don’t get the opportunities that others receive in this business of politics,” Mr. Adams told PIX11 last week, in his first sit-down interview since the raid, describing Ms. Suggs as a “very bright, energetic, smart, young lady who worked hard.”
Ms. Suggs started working as a $20-an-hour employee for Mr. Adams when he was the Brooklyn borough president in 2018, according to city payroll records compiled by the Empire Center, a watchdog group.
By fiscal year 2019, she was on staff, earning a salary of $52,500 a year. She graduated from Brooklyn College the following year, with a bachelor’s in business management. By the time Mr. Adams became mayor, she was earning nearly $80,000 in the borough president’s office.
A person who worked with Ms. Suggs at Brooklyn Borough Hall said it was clear when she arrived that she had a “closeness” with both Mr. Adams and Ingrid Lewis-Martin, who is now the mayor’s top aide. Ms. Lewis-Martin often referred to Ms. Suggs as her “goddaughter,” according to several people who saw the two women together.
More recently, when Ms. Lewis-Martin asked another fund-raiser to hire Ms. Suggs, she described her as “part of the family,” the fund-raiser said.
“I have known Brianna in personal and professional settings, and she has always been kind and hard-working,” Ms. Lewis-Martin said on Sunday. “I feel confident that she has always conducted herself in accordance with any rules and regulations. She continues to have my full support.”
At Borough Hall, Ms. Suggs had the “youthful brazenness” of someone who was close with the two most powerful people in the office, one person who dealt with Ms. Suggs then said.
She was also eager to work on Mr. Adams’s mayoral campaign, the person recalled. And so she did.
Mr. Adams’s first mayoral campaign paid her more than $50,000 to manage its fund-raising. In the past two years, his re-election campaign has paid Ms. Suggs nearly $100,000 for fund-raising and campaign consulting services via her company, Suggs Solutions, according to city records.
Ms. Suggs was also able to leverage her connections to work as a fund-raiser for a political action committee that aimed to advance Mr. Adams’s statewide agenda. In that position, she has earned another $100,000.
She even worked as a fund-raiser for the Brooklyn Democratic Party, one of the largest Democratic organizations in the country.
Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, the assemblywoman who leads the Brooklyn Democratic Party and is a close Adams ally, said Ms. Suggs was mainly responsible for the logistics of fund-raising and described her as a volunteer.
Ms. Suggs would call the venue, confirm the food and drink menu, the sound system, decorations and the table layout for fund-raising events.
“The person who fund-raises for the party is me,” Ms. Bichotte Hermelyn said, adding that the party had not been contacted by federal authorities.
Unlike many professional fund-raisers, Ms. Suggs did not initially have her own Rolodex of donors. But given the prominence of her client, she did not necessarily need one. When someone would call and say they wanted to donate money, they would be referred to Ms. Suggs, according to six people who have raised money for Mr. Adams.
Two said it was clear that she had a shaky grasp on the job. Details for events were hard to come by. Dates frequently changed.
After Mr. Adams won the competitive Democratic primary for mayor in summer 2021, the coffers of the city’s political class opened wider. Everyone from fellow politicians to real estate developers to lawyers was eager to give money to the likely 110th mayor of New York City. The mayor, and Ms. Suggs, made the most of it.
The minimum amount to get Mr. Adams to appear at a fund-raiser was $25,000, according to two fund-raisers who communicated directly with Ms. Suggs about an event. Time is precious for an incoming mayor.
Ingrid Lewis-Martin, the mayor’s top aide at City Hall, often referred to Ms. Suggs as her “goddaughter,” several people said.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times
At one fund-raiser in 2021, a person who helped connect the campaign with donors said that Ms. Suggs arrived with the mayor, escorted him around the room as he spoke with guests and received the checks. Ms. Suggs stood next to the mayor and had a drink and a couple of hors d’oeuvres.
To at least a few people in the donor class, Ms. Suggs made a good impression, even as others questioned her youth and inexperience.
“She’s smart, she’s quick. She’s responsive, she’s easy to work with,” said Kathryn Wylde, the chief executive for the Partnership for New York City, an organization that represents major New York business leaders. Ms. Suggs, she said, is “a nice person.”
Al Taylor, an assemblyman from Harlem, said that he couldn’t “say enough good things about” Ms. Suggs, who helped him raise money.
“Anytime I called her, she picked up the phone,” said Mr. Taylor, adding that he was surprised to find out how young she was because she handled herself with a high level of professionalism.
He said he would be “shocked” if Ms. Suggs was involved in wrongdoing because “she doesn’t have those kinds of characteristics.”
In September, Arthur Aidala, an attorney and radio host, hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Adams at his midtown offices. Ms. Suggs was there, greeting donors, while Mr. Adams worked the room.
“She was very insistent that all of the necessary paperwork that needed to accompany any contributions was completed accurately,” Mr. Aidala said.
But another fund-raiser who organized an event for Mr. Adams found it strange that Ms. Suggs had been entrusted with the keys to a multimillion-dollar campaign fund-raising effort and raised the issue with the mayor.
The mayor seemed unconcerned, even enthusiastic, arguing that all you need for a fund-raiser was an organized young person with a spreadsheet, the fund-raiser added.
To others who worked with Ms. Suggs, she could come off as territorial and deeply aware of her privileged status with the mayor.
She seemed empowered by the way Mr. Adams treated her — more like a friend than a colleague, they said. At least once, Mr. Adams used his motorcade to pick up Ms. Suggs en route to a fund-raiser.
One member of the political class said the power profile of Ms. Suggs and the influence she wielded was palpable. When she arrived at an event or a dinner, some people would almost instinctively rise and offer her their place.
By last year, Ms. Suggs seemed to have settled into her role as a fund-raiser for the mayor. She was exploring the possibility of fund-raising for statewide campaigns, according to a Democratic political consultant who spoke with her about her ambitions.
By June of 2023, she was no longer just choosing venues and collecting checks for clients, said one donor whom Ms. Suggs called that month.
She was now directly asking donors to attend and recruit donations for a fund-raiser Mr. Adams’s campaign was hosting at the Broadway show “New York, New York.” Top-priced tickets for the event were selling for $2,100 apiece.
Susan Beachy contributed research.
Audio produced by Jack D’Isidoro.