NEW YORK — Employees of the little-known Brooklyn construction firm hadn’t donated to local political races going back more than a decade.
Then all of a sudden they became heavy donors to Eric Adams’ campaign for mayor.
Now the firm, KSK Construction Group, is tied up in a federal probe into Adams’ 2021 campaign fundraising after 11 people who listed KSK as their employer wrote sizable checks to his campaign, a review of records shows.
About $14,000 in donations by executives and staff at the firm are part of a public corruption investigation into whether Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign was involved in a straw donor scheme to funnel money from the Turkish government through the company, according to The New York Times.
Almost a dozen people affiliated with the firm, which reportedly has ties to Turkey, each gave between $1,200 and $1,500 to the campaign on a single day in May 2021, a review of campaign finance reports showed. The contributions allowed Adams’ campaign to qualify for $18,000 in public matching funds.
For nearly all of the individuals, the donations appear to be their first-ever political contributions.
“It is a red flag to have all these individuals making contributions for the first time, on the same day, from the same employer, with no history of political giving,” said John Kaehny, executive director at the watchdog group Reinvent Albany. “That’s just classic straw donor.”
Of the 11 people who identified KSK as their employer and who made the May 7 contributions to Adams, 10 had not donated to any other city or state political campaign, according to campaign finance records going back to the late 1980s reviewed by POLITICO.
The one person who had was Erden Arkan, an owner of the firm, who had not made a political contribution for 12 years prior to 2021 — last contributing $1,000 in 2009 to the campaign of former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
He made a little over a dozen political contributions between 1997 and 2009, also contributing to the campaigns of C. Virginia Fields for Manhattan borough president in 1997, both Mark Green and Alan Hevesi for mayor in 2001 and Bill Thompson for city comptroller in 2005.
The company has not been charged with wrongdoing related to the campaign contributions, but its unusual flurry of donations appear to have drawn the interest of federal prosecutors who raided the home of Adams’ chief fundraiser last week.
A person who answered a phone call to KSK said the firm has no comment at this time. Arkan did not return a message seeking comment, and the other KSK employees either didn’t return voicemails or could not be reached.
KSK, which was started in the early 2000s, has built at least 39 real estate projects across the city in recent decades, ranging from high-end condos to hotels, according to its website.
The Brooklyn firm, whose founders are from Turkey, was active in the condo boom in Williamsburg in the mid- to late-2000s — constructing more than a dozen projects in the area between 2006 and 2011.
People in the real estate industry said they don’t consider KSK a major player, but did associate the firm with its work in the then-up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhood, where the company is headquartered.
More recently, KSK built a 25-story high-rise at 570 Broome St. in Hudson Square, where one two-bedroom condo recently sold for $4.2 million. KSK worked on the project with the firm Agime Group, which it often partners with, according to Agime’s website. Arkan also sits on Agime’s advisory board.
The firm was started by employees of another construction firm Kiska, which was awarded contracts for city projects during the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations, including the reconstruction of the Third Avenue Bridge and the first section of the High Line. That firm was at the center of two other corruption scandals involving bribes to city workers related to those projects in 2007 and 2008, The City reported.
In 2021, meanwhile, KSK — along with other firms involved in the 570 Broome project — were hit with a lawsuit by the family of a construction worker who was crushed to death on the job site, according to the New York Post.
Joe Anuta contributed to this report.