Homeowners Protection Event in Jamaica Draws Hundreds

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

A resource fair and educational panel on deed theft and foreclosure prevention drew hundreds to St. Albans Church in Jamaica, Queens.

The event, held last Thursday evening, was hosted by Attorney General Letitia James’s office. James was unable to attend in person, but a cohort of local reps sponsoring the event were there: Congress Member Gregory Meeks, State Senator Leroy Comrie, Assembly Members Alicia Hyndman and Clyde Vanel, and Council Members Nantasha Williams and Selvena Brooks-Powers. Borough President Donovan Richards was also listed as a cosponsor but did not attend the event. 

Nonprofits and community based organizations lined the perimeter of the room. Center for NYC Neighborhoods, The Legal Aid Society and the Chhaya Community Development Corporation were some of those present. Attendees had time at the beginning of the event to visit the organization’s information tables before the program began—then, elected officials in attendance gave brief remarks, and experts from different nonprofit and legal aid groups participated in a panel discussion. 

Monica Abend, a representative for the attorney general, told the crowd that their elected officials had requested the event take place. 

“This is why we were called to Southeast Queens,” Abend said. “The elected officials here in this community are amazing and fabulous. And they had said, ‘please come to Southeast Queens. Please come talk about deed theft, talk about foreclosure, talk about keeping generational wealth in our communities.’”

Deed theft is difficult to prosecute and comes in a variety of different methods. Leveraging family disputes and unclear wills to manipulate families into partition actions, engaging in fraud, or using forgery—or any combination of the above—are all ways speculators, scammers, and bad real estate actors force homeowner’s hands to relinquish their property or sell it for below market rate. 

Deed theft is particularly common in Black and Brown neighborhoods undergoing gentrification, according to analysis from The City. Foreclosure rates, too, are higher among Black and Brown families than white ones—the National Bureau of Economic Research links this to disparities in income stability and cash on hand. 

Southeast Queens, and particularly Jamaica, suffers high rates of foreclosure compared to the rest of the borough. Zip Codes encompassing parts of Jamaica, St. Albans, and Springfield had the highest rates of foreclosure in the borough both before the pandemic, in Q3 2019, and after the foreclosure moratorium was lifted, in Q3 2022, according to PropertyShark. In Q1 2023, Jamaica saw the highest rate of first-time foreclosures in the entire city. 

“We know that Southeast Queens represent Black homeownership in this nation, and we have to do all that we can to make sure that we are preserving that,” Council Member Brooks-Powers said, addressing the crowd. 

“Back in 2008, remember, we got hit hard by the foreclosure crisis at that time. And then coming out of COVID-19, you know, a lot of families have been struggling to make ends meet.”

Assembly Member Clyde Vanel also reflected on the significance of Southeast Queens as a locus for Black homeownership. 

“It’s good to see so many people out here, but also it’s kind of sad,” he said. “The cornerstone of our neighborhood is our homes, is homeownership. We worked so hard for these homes. If we lose one house on the block, or two hours on the block, that’s over a million dollars of Black wealth. So this is really important, not about not just about keeping our homes but about our legacies and about building our wealth.”

Abend told the crowd that a frequent refrain from residents facing foreclosure and deed theft is that they don’t know where to go for help. 

“That’s why we’re here today. This is where you need to go,” Abend said. “Every single organization that’s surrounding us, like hugging us, these are your people to go to. They are the experts, over and beyond.”

Throughout the speeches and panel, speakers frequently came back to methods to prevent foreclosure or deed theft from taking place or progressing beyond one’s control. Planning a comprehensive will, talking to trusted family members if mortgage difficulties or scams arise and reaching out to homeowner-supporting organizations to learn about one’s options were practices highlighted repeatedly. 

Speakers also frequently reminded the crowd that there was an election coming up, and implored them to vote. At one point in the remarks, a lone man with a megaphone interrupted the speakers to shout at the crowd to vote Republican before being escorted out by event staff. 

State Senator Leroy Comrie was one of those who emphasized the importance of the vote, as well as consistent activist pressure on Albany. He mentioned that State Democrats were pushing two bills aimed at helping those at risk of foreclosure, and that courts throughout the state needed consistent pressure to “follow the law.” 

“The courts are allowing the banks to lie about not having documentation when they’ve had it,”  the Senator said, to murmurs of agreement from the crowd. “They’ve allowed the banks to change personnel so that when they get to the foreclosure meetings, they’re claiming that they don’t have the documents. They’re doing all kinds of tricky things to try to take people out of the house, even if you have an agreement. They’re trying to have someone call you and act like they hadn’t heard any agreement and they’re forcing you to pay money. There’s a lot going on,”

Despite the high turnout, not all attendees found the event to be completely helpful. 61-year-old Sonia Cole, who currently resides in Coney Island but used to live in Southeast Queens, said she’s been fighting a complicated deed theft battle for two decades. She said that the resources for preventing foreclosure or deed theft from occurring in the first place often don’t transfer over to situations where one is already caught in the middle of it. 

“You’re telling [us], the neighborhood, all these things—‘You want help? You want help?’—but we’re still going around in a circle,” Cole said. “Because I’m wondering how many people this happened to. It can’t just be me.”

Feds raid home of mayor’s top fundraiser

Credit Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

By Matthew Fischetti, Oona Milliken, Charlie Finnerty and Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

The Crown-Heights home of Brianna Suggs, a 25-year old fund-raiser for Mayor Eric Adams’ mayoral run, was raided on Thursday Nov. 2. Suggs, who was 23 when she took on the task of running the mayor’s fundraising campaign, has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but FBI agents removed three iPhones, two laptops, alongside other materials such as binders, papers and a manila folder labeled “Eric Adams,” according to reporting by the New York Times.

The sweep is part of a broader probe by the FBI squad into public corruption under Mayor Adams helm. The federal government is investigating whether or not Adams has worked with the north Brooklyn construction company KSK Construction to inject foreign funds from Turkey to his mayoral campaign using straw donors. Various contributors who listed the construction company as their employer gave nearly $14,000 to Adams during his campaign. Construction company employees told THE CITY that they did not donate to Eric Adams or refused to state whether they had ever donated.

Though Suggs was young and inexperienced when she took her position as the mayor’s fundraising manager in 2021, the campaign raised more than $18 million for the campaign under her helm. She has worked with the mayor since 2018 during his days as Brooklyn Borough President, where she started as an intern whilst she was still enrolled as a student at Brooklyn College, according to her Linkedin profile. After rising through the ranks at Brooklyn Borough Hall, The Times reported that Suggs was making $80,000 at the end of her time in the office in 2021. 

Online news outlet The Messenger reported that NYPD officials were sent to conduct a “wellness check” prior to the FBI raid, which was noted as unusual behavior.

Though Adams is not directly implicated in the investigation, this is the second time this year that straw donor allegations have surfaced in conjunction with his 2021 mayoral run. Six people were charged on July 7, 2023 with allocating public funds to the mayoral campaign, according to reporting by the Associated Press. The Suggs raid gives new weight to charges of public corruption under Eric Adams watch due to the influence of foreign funds from Turkey. 

The news has already stirred 2025 speculation. Evan Roth Smith, from political consulting firm Slingshot Strategies, tweeted that “2025 starts today” and the New York Times has reported that there is potential interest in Broooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie while Politico reported that Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos was calling potential supporters.

 

*Turkish influence* 

The influence of money from the Turkish government and possibility of conspiracy with foreign agents adds a level of seriousness to the allegations. The warrant for the raid on Suggs’ residence included “records of travel to Turkey by any employee, officer or associate of the campaign; and documents related to interactions between the campaign and the government of Turkey.”

Adams has a long history with the country. Just days before the raid, he attended a Turkish flag raising ceremony in Manhattan where he boasted his frequent travels to the middle eastern country, saying, “I’m probably the only mayor in the history of this city that has not only visited Turkey once, but I think I’m on my sixth or seventh visit to Turkey.”

The earliest record of these trips was in August 2015, when Adams flew to Istanbul as Brooklyn borough president to visit a Syrian refugee camp and establish a sister-city relationship between Brooklyn and Istanbul’s Üsküdar district. According to Conflict of Interest Board disclosures, the trip was paid for by Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, Turkish Airlines, the “Turkish Culture and Promotion Office in New York,” and several Turkish government offices, totaling at least $15,000. Adams was presented with an “honorary faculty” by Bahcesehir University and a scholarship was created in his name.

In December of that same year, Adams returned to the country for another $14,000 trip paid for by the World Tourism Organization and Association of Young Tourism Leaders, both of which have ties to the Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, according to THE CITY. During the December trip, Adams spent time in the coastal city of Antalya where he met with Semsettin Aydin, the owner of a Turkish construction company, Baysas Construction. 

According to a report at the time from Turkish media outlet Kadınca Emlak, Adams told Aydin he wanted to connect Aydin’s company to Brooklyn’s construction industry, saying, “I would like to host you in my country at the first opportunity you get,” Adams was reported as saying.

During the December 2015 trip, Adams also met with Enver Yücel, the president of BAU Global, the organization that founded both Bahcesehir University and Bay Atlantic University, in Washington D.C. Adams’ 2021 campaign received $10,000 from Bay Atlantic University staff, including the university’s president, Sinem Vatanartiran. These donations were returned before the election and later scrutinized by the Campaign Finance Board, but the Adams’ campaign was unresponsive to that scrutiny, according to The City.

Adams returned again to Istanbul in 2017 where he was interviewed by Turkey’s Daily Sabah. In the interview, Adams said that was his fifth visit to the country and mentioned plans to purchase a home there. He also expressed a desire to establish a Turkish trade center in Brooklyn.

“We want the business community here in Turkey to see the business opportunities in Brooklyn and vice versa particularly in housing development,” Adams said in the interview. “Brooklyn, where the Turkish community has small businesses, is a place where you can expand businesses.”

Back in New York, Adams has enjoyed loyal support from the city’s Turkish-American communities, including several fundraising events hosted by Turkish-American business owners between 2018 and 2021, according to several reports from CNN and NYCITY News Service. According to NY Magazine, a 2017 Turkish rom-com movie shot in New York City, New York Masalı, features Adams seemingly playing himself as borough president who two Turkish-American men approach to ask for political favors. Adams says he cannot understand them but says, “Brooklyn loves Turkey.”

Turkey has attracted criticism for human rights abuses and widespread corruption in recent years under president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who rose to power in 2014. In the time since Erdoğan’s ascension, the country has fallen in Transparency International’s corruption index, ranking 101 out of the 180 countries scored in 2022. 

Meanwhile, crackdowns on free press, free speech and protests through rampant police violence have become the norm in Turkey under Erdoğan, according to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. The European Court of Human Rights found Turkey liable for political suppression due to its attempts to close one of the country’s major opposition parties and ban over 400 of its representatives from government. These concerns have been in the international spotlight as the European Union considers admitting Turkey as a member nation.

Adams praised Erdoğan’s wife, First Lady Emine Erdoğan of Turkey, at a United Nations climate event.

“We have two mothers. One gave birth to us and the other sustained (us), and what the first lady is doing is stating it clearly,” Adams said, according to Turkish news outlet Anadolu Agency. “I thank you for your vision, for your wisdom and understanding that we have an obligation to sustain the life of the mother.”

 

*Dubious Practices* 

Adams has been known to test the boundaries of campaign finance regulations without ever crossing the line into formal wrongdoing. 

A New York Times review in 2021 highlighted Adams’s use of his nonprofit, One Brooklyn Fund Inc, to functionally sidestep limitations on donations: the organization enjoyed an influx of millions of dollars from supporters, some of whom had business before the city and would have been limited to giving only $400 per election cycle the straightforward way. In addition to directing resources towards charitable causes, One Brooklyn used funds to distribute promotional material about Adams, host extravagant fundraising events and bestow awards on constituent businesses (some of whom later contributed to Adams’s mayoral run, according to Politico). During a 2015 visit to Turkey as borough president, Adams stated in a press release that the trip “underscore[d] the deep importance of our own Turkish community and their contributions to our One Brooklyn family.” 

There have been a slew of cases throughout the mayor’s career where he accepted funds raised by constituents on the city’s doing-business list right around the time they were seeking a particular outcome from his office. One of many examples is the case of Slate Property Group, as covered in a 2021 New York Times analysis: during Adams’s 2021 mayoral run, David Schwartz, a real estate developer and cofounder of Slate, organized a fundraiser that yielded $20,000 for Adams, according to the New York Times article. Weeks before, Slate Property Group had filed a land use application to build a new 40-story building in downtown Brooklyn, which would require a zoning change. Adams gave his approval to the rezoning efforts months later, against the wishes of the local community board, without disclosing any financial ties to Schwartz. More recently, Adams was grazed by a case of corruption from within his administration. Eric Ulrich, a former senior advisor to the mayor and head of the buildings department, currently faces charges of bribery. Among the list of wrongdoings, Ulrich is accused of accepting a discounted apartment from a developer with business before the city, and accepting cash in exchange for favors such as a second shot at a health inspection for a restaurant, exclusive contracts and job offers to family. 

In the beginning of his mayoralty, Adams’s decision to appoint Philip Banks to the position of Deputy Mayor of Public Safety despite being an unindicted co-conspirator in a wide-ranging NYPD corruption case was highly criticized.

Mayor Adams has denied knowledge of any wrongdoing and said he would comply with investigations when asked about it during a PIX 11 interview.

“Well, first of all, where there’s smoke there’s not always fire. Listen, I make sure that we have real compliance. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure that it’s done correctly, and we are going to comply with any agency, that review, whatever we do,” he said.

“And if anyone did something that’s appropriate outside of our compliance procedures, the law enforcement agencies will determine that. This is new and evolving, and we’re going to comply 100 percent. I have not been contacted by any law enforcement agency, and no law enforcement agency has determined that anyone associated with our campaign did anything wrong.”

Burgers Tacos Wings & Seafood of Merrick Blvd named Queens’ Best Taco

Fom left: State Senator Leroy Comrie, Philip Armstrong, Yali Cabrera, Cristal Rodriguez, Madeline Wilson, Tom Grech

by Charlie Finnerty

Burgers Tacos Wings & Seafood restaurant at 110-46 Merrick Blvd was named Queens’ Best Taco by Queens Chamber of Commerce after a vote by Queens residents. Chamber President Tom Grech and State Senator Leroy Comrie presented the award to co-owners Madeline Wilson and Philip Armstrong at the restaurant Nov. 2.

“We knew we had awesome tacos, but now everyone’s going to know,” Wilson said.

Armstrong said the award offers a boost in morale after the difficulties of managing a small business during the pandemic.

“To be totally honest, this is a surreal moment. After COVID, small businesses have been having a hard time,” Armstrong said. “We’re here everyday putting in the work. There’s still more work to do but stuff like this makes us know we’re on the right path.”

Wilson and Armstrong operated the restaurant as a “ghost kitchen” during COVID, providing meals exclusively for delivery before moving to their current dine-in location in January of 2021. Armstrong said business has fluctuated throughout that time.

Cristal Rodriguez is the head cook at Burgers Tacos Wings & Seafood. Rodriguez, originally from North Carolina, said her southern heritage inspires her cooking.

“It’s an opportunity to bring a little soul and southern love to the city,” Rodriguez said.

On her tacos winning the borough award, Rodriguez said the credit goes out to everyone at the restaurant.

“It means the world,” Rodriguez said. “I’m honored and I’m humbled. I’m just a small vessel, it starts with [Armstrong and Wilson]. I’m just their secret behind the doors.”

Rodriguez said the smaller operation at Burgers Tacos Wings & Seafood creates a bond among the staff.
“I really love the environment. It’s a homely environment,” Rodriguez said. “I love that we’re small because we’re able to pay more attention to the needs of the people. Not only that, but we’re also able to put our minds together as one.”

The best taco award is part of a series of “Best Of” titles that the Queens’ Chamber is awarding to restaurants across the borough. Other awards include best barbecue, best pizza and empanadas. Grech said the taco award was especially competitive because so many different cuisines have embraced tacos and added their own flair.

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