A few months before he was elected mayor of New York City, Eric Adams was feted at a $1,000-a-head fund-raiser at Russo’s on the Bay, a plush wedding venue overlooking the water in Howard Beach, Queens. Among the hosts was Eric Ulrich, a city councilman whom Mr. Adams would eventually appoint as buildings commissioner.
Now, at least four hosts of the August 2021 event, including Mr. Ulrich, are under scrutiny, with several expected to face charges stemming from a bribery and organized crime investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, according to several people familiar with elements of the inquiry. It is unclear whether the fund-raiser is connected to the pending charges.
Law enforcement officials plan to announce charges next month against at least five individuals, some of the people said. In addition to Mr. Ulrich, those facing indictment include Anthony and Joseph Livreri, the owners of a Queens pizzeria that prosecutors investigating allegations of gambling and organized crime activity have focused on.
The Livreris were also hosts of the fund-raiser, as was Michael Mazzio, a towing-company operator and friend of Mr. Ulrich’s who is also under investigation. Law enforcement officials had previously identified Mr. Mazzio and the Livreri brothers as having connections to organized crime.
During the investigation, prosecutors wiretapped Mr. Ulrich’s cellphone, two of the people said. Mr. Adams is not expected to be charged in the case, but he was among those whose conversations were intercepted, the people said.
That Mr. Adams was recorded talking to his buildings commissioner is not in itself unusual, and there is no indication that the mayor’s captured conversations implicated him in any criminal conduct, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The mayor was not listed in the wiretap application as a person of interest.
The expected charges against Mr. Ulrich and the other fund-raiser hosts — and the mayor’s surfacing on a wiretap — are nonetheless the latest examples of Mr. Adams’s tendency to surround himself with friends and supporters tainted by ethical lapses and accusations of criminal conduct.
The criminal inquiry also raises questions about the fund-raiser and the nature of Mr. Adams’s relationship with the event’s 11 hosts, who also included his close confidant Timothy Pearson.
Fabien Levy, a deputy mayor for communications, said that Mr. Adams intends to “allow this investigation to run its course, and will continue to assist the D.A. in any way needed.”
Mr. Levy added that the mayor “has not received any requests from the Manhattan D.A. surrounding this matter and has never spoken to Mr. Ulrich about this investigation.” A spokeswoman for Mr. Bragg declined to comment.
Mr. Ulrich and the others who face charges, including a Brooklyn developer, Mark Caller, are expected to be arraigned next month. In recent weeks, a grand jury voted to charge Mr. Ulrich with accepting a discounted apartment from Mr. Caller, who has had business before the Buildings Department, according to two of the people familiar with the investigation.
Prosecutors believe that Mr. Ulrich, who resigned in November days after investigators from the district attorney’s office seized his phone, accepted at least some of the benefit while still in charge of the agency.
Prosecutors are expected to bring additional charges related to organized crime, the people said, although the exact nature of the conduct in question was not clear.
In 2018, the Manhattan district attorney’s office charged Mr. Mazzio and two of his brothers, Salvatore and Angelo, with participating in a violent and illegal towing monopoly. That case is still pending. Law enforcement officials at two separate agencies have asserted that the three brothers and the Livreris have connections to the Gambino crime family.
A lawyer for Mr. Caller, Benjamin Brafman, said there was “no connection whatsoever between Mr. Caller and any of the allegations of organized crime, and I would be shocked if the district attorney suggested otherwise.”
Mr. Brafman said the only allegation against his client relates to the developer’s apartment where Mr. Ulrich still lives. “As I have said previously, it was rented by Mr. Ulrich at market rate well before he became buildings commissioner.”
Mr. Ulrich has had his own connection to the Gambino family, court papers show. In 2014, when he was a Republican City Council member representing the Queens district that includes Ozone Park and Howard Beach, he used his official stationery to ask a federal judge for leniency in the sentencing of a Gambino soldier, William M. Pazienza.
Mr. Pazienza, known as Old Man Willy, had pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in a scheme to recruit women from Eastern Europe to work as dancers at mob-controlled New York strip clubs. His criminal history traced to 1977 and included arrests for promoting prostitution and weapons possession, city records show.
Mr. Ulrich told the judge he had known Mr. Pazienza for seven years and considered him “a personal friend.”
“On more than one occasion, I have witnessed his fatherly-like demeanor and overall good character,” Mr. Ulrich wrote. “In my honest estimation, Mr. Pazienza is a kind person and devoted family man.”
Mr. Pazienza’s son, William Pazienza Jr., a limousine driver, according to campaign finance records, was also a host of the August 2021 fund-raiser for Mr. Adams. Members of the Mazzio family have also donated generously to Mr. Adams, the records show.
A lawyer for Mr. Ulrich, Samuel M. Braverman, has said he would not respond to the allegations against his client before seeing the charges in an indictment. On Friday, he referred to that statement when asked for comment.
Several attempts to reach the Livreris on Monday in person and by phone were unsuccessful; workers at their restaurant and a woman at Anthony Livreri’s house in Queens said they either had no comment or were unavailable.
Mr. Mazzio’s lawyer, James R. Froccaro, said his client “had done nothing wrong, and he absolutely maintains his innocence.”
The mayor has previously shown a willingness to overlook questionable, or even criminal conduct, among his appointees, associates and donors. He tapped Mr. Ulrich to lead the scandal-scarred Buildings Department in May 2022 despite a history of questionable behavior for a person holding a commissioner-level position.
Mr. Ulrich has acknowledged that he once had a drinking problem and is also an admitted gambler. Before he was appointed buildings commissioner, it was widely reported that in 2018, he wrote a letter to a second federal judge on official stationery on behalf of another mob figure: a Bonanno family associate awaiting sentencing on loan-sharking charges.
Mr. Ulrich has told prosecutors that the mayor delivered a warning to him about the inquiry, though Mr. Adams has denied doing so or knowing of the investigation before its existence was reported.
The case against Mr. Ulrich is one of two Mr. Bragg is overseeing that have reached into the mayor’s inner circle. The other involves an alleged scheme to recruit and reimburse individual straw donors to Mr. Adams’s mayoral campaign to illegally obtain money from the city’s public matching funds program. Dwayne Montgomery, a longtime friend of Mr. Adams’s, is among those charged in the case.
The news organization The City recently identified a number of other questionable contributions to Mr. Adams’s campaign from donors who said either that they did not know who they were donating to or that the donations had been made in their names without their knowledge.
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