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FBI searches houses owned by Adams’ Asian Affairs Adviser

The searches of the properties owned by the aide, Winnie Greco, were part of an investigation being conducted with prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn.
Last Updated 01 March 2024, 04:27 IST

New York: FBI agents on Thursday searched two houses owned by a close aide to Mayor Eric Adams of New York, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The searches of the properties owned by the aide, Winnie Greco, were part of an investigation being conducted with prosecutors from the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn, the people said.

Federal agents on Thursday also executed at least one other search warrant at the New World Mall in Flushing, Queens, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. Adams has made regular appearances at the mall, including to deliver remarks at a Lunar New Year gala two weeks ago.

It was unclear what the investigation was focused on or whether it was related to Adams, who has been the subject of a separate criminal inquiry by the US attorney’s office in Manhattan.

A prominent fundraiser for Adams during his mayoral campaign, Greco has close ties to the Chinese community in New York City and was appointed as his director of Asian affairs after he took office. She has traveled to China with Adams and was a champion of a building project in Brooklyn to install an arch in the Sunset Park neighborhood that was given to the city by Beijing.

It was not immediately clear Thursday whether she had a lawyer. She could not be reached for comment.

An FBI spokesperson said Thursday that the bureau “was conducting law enforcement activity in the vicinity” of Greco’s houses on Gillespie Avenue in the Pelham Bay neighborhood of the Bronx and at the address of the mall, but declined to elaborate.

A spokesperson for the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn— which has been scrutinizing the Chinese government’s activities in the United States, resulting in several high profile cases— said he had no comment.

Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for Adams, a Democrat in his first term, said Thursday that Greco was on leave from her City Hall job. He said that Adams had not been accused of any wrongdoing.

“Our administration will always follow the law, and we always expect all our employees to adhere to the strictest ethical guidelines,” Levy said in a statement. “As we have repeatedly said, we don’t comment on matters that are under review, but will fully cooperate with any review underway,” apparently referring to the federal investigations.

The searches of Greco’s properties, which were first reported by News 12 in the Bronx, occurred months after the homes of other associates of Adams were raided by federal officials as part of broad public corruption investigation. That federal criminal inquiry, which appears to be unrelated, has focused on whether Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign conspired with the Turkish government to receive illegal foreign donations.

On November 2, federal agents working with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York conducted coordinated searches at the homes of Brianna Suggs, the mayor’s chief fundraiser; Rana Abbasova, an aide in Adams’ international affairs office; and Cenk Öcal, a former Turkish Airlines executive who served on the mayor’s transition team.

Vito Pitta, a lawyer for Adams’ campaign, said in a statement Thursday: “The campaign has always and will always follow the law. It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation at this time.”

Unlike the searches in the Southern District’s public corruption case, however, those at Greco’s houses were conducted by agents working with prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York. That office has brought several cases as part of a national effort by the Justice Department to disrupt what it contends is a global initiative by the Chinese government to control its diaspora.

In one case in 2022, those prosecutors, who are based in Brooklyn, charged seven Chinese nationals in a scheme to force the return to China of a Chinese man living in the United States as part of what the Justice Department called an international extralegal repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt.” In another case, they charged that two Chinese intelligence agents tried to obstruct a criminal case.

Last year, they arrested two men on charges that they had run an unauthorized Chinese police outpost in Manhattan’s Chinatown, saying that it was one of more than 100 around the globe that China used to intimidate and control its citizens abroad and stamp out criticism of the ruling Communist Party. The same day they announced charges in two related cases, one accusing 34 Chinese police officers of harassing Chinese people in the New York area.

As Adams sought to bring together a diverse coalition of voters in the 2021 mayoral race, Greco was a key ally who helped with fundraising and outreach to Asian American neighborhoods. She is a regular at Chinese cultural events and friendly with leaders at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of New York.

Greco had often been by the mayor’s side as he ran for office and settled into City Hall, where she took a prominent job in January 2022 at a salary of about $100,000. They have been close for at least a decade, when Adams named her an “honorary ambassador” to the Chinese community in his role as Brooklyn borough president.

And after Greco attended an event in San Francisco with Adams’ son, Jordan Coleman, last year, Adams was asked at a news conference why his son had joined her. Adams said he did not know why Coleman was there.

“My son does not get in my business,” he said. “I do not get in my son’s business.”

At a reception in May at Gracie Mansion to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Adams thanked Greco, calling her “unbelievable.” The mayor’s closest adviser, Ingrid P. Lewis-Martin, also thanked her for organizing the event and referred to her as “my sister.”

But in November, the news outlet The City reported that a volunteer for Adams’ 2021 campaign had accused Greco of asking him to work for free on renovations to her home in the Bronx in order to secure a job in the mayor’s administration.

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Investigation said in November that it had opened an inquiry related to Greco after the mayor’s office referred a complaint to the department, but she declined to provide more details.

In recent months, Adams has distanced himself from Greco.

He said in November that she still worked for the city and that he would greet her using a Mandarin expression when he saw her, but he did not discuss the investigation with her.

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(Published 01 March 2024, 04:27 IST)

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