Ringleader in 2021 straw donor scheme tied to NYC Mayor Adams’ campaign pleads guilty

NEW YORK — Dwayne Montgomery, a former NYPD inspector and longtime friend of Mayor Eric Adams, admitted as part of a guilty plea Monday that he helped orchestrate a scheme to funnel illegal donations into the mayor’s 2021 campaign coffers.

During a morning hearing in Manhattan Criminal Court, Montgomery copped to one count of fifth-degree conspiracy, a Class A misdemeanor, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Alvin Bragg confirmed.

Under his plea deal, Montgomery is admitting he conspired with construction contractor Shamsuddin Riza and five other men between at least August 2020 and November 2021 to make and facilitate illegal contributions to Adams’ 2021 City Hall run. The deal doesn’t implicate the mayor or his campaign in wrongdoing.

Montgomery won’t have to serve prison time, as long as he pays a $500 fine and does 200 hours of community service with BKLYN Combine, a group that provides educational and social support for Black teens and young adults. Montgomery also agreed as part of the deal to not host any political fundraisers or solicit contributions on behalf of any campaign for one year.

His attorney, Anthony Ricco, didn’t return requests for comment from the Daily News.

According to the plea agreement, Montgomery and his co-defendants gave money to Adams’ campaign in the names of dozens of unwitting individuals and reimbursed other people for making their own contributions to the campaign. The practice — known as straw donating — was illegal as it generated illicit public matching funds for the mayor’s campaign and violated caps on how much money an individual can donate.

Specifically, Montgomery admitted to transferring $260 to an unnamed straw donor via Cash App on Aug. 14, 2020, which the person then contributed to Adams’ campaign, according to the plea paperwork. Montgomery also admitted to having “directed and aided” others to commit campaign finance crimes.

Riza, who with Montgomery has been described as the ringleaders of the scheme, faces similar charges as him. Riza has pleaded not guilty.

Two of the scheme’s other alleged masterminds, Shahid and Yahya Mushtaq, pleaded guilty to their roles in October. As part of their deal, the Mushtaq brothers, who ran the construction firm EcoSafety Consultants, agreed to cooperate in Bragg’s ongoing investigation.

According to Bragg’s prosecutors, Montgomery and the others undertook the Adams campaign-boosting scheme in hopes it would net them lucrative city contracts once he became mayor.

Adams — whose 2021 campaign is also under FBI investigation over a separate set of straw donation allegations — stressed after Montgomery’s plea that he has not been accused of knowing about his scheme or playing any part in it.

Speaking to reporters at City Hall, Adams noted he has known Montgomery since they served in the NYPD together decades ago. He also expressed sympathy for the retired police inspector.

“It appears as though he made a decision that he’s going to regret. I’m hoping that he goes on with his life … Everyone has days that I’m sure that they would like to take back,” the mayor said.

He added: “I have not communicated with him since this incident happened, and if I were to see him somewhere, I would say, ‘Hey Dwayne, how are you doing, I wish the best for you.'”

Though Adams says he didn’t know of the scheme, Montgomery told Riza in a phone call on July 9, 2021 that the mayor was aware of their fundraising efforts, according to their July 2023 indictment.

“[Adams] said he doesn’t want to do anything if he doesn’t get 25 Gs,” Montgomery said on the call, according to court papers.

Not long after, prosecutors say Riza forwarded Montgomery details about an upcoming construction project in Brooklyn that he was hoping to do work on, writing in an email: “We all can eat!”

“Please show to him before Event it will start when he’s in office,” Riza wrote in another email dated July 21, in an apparent reference to Adams.

As first reported by The News last year, Montgomery also co-hosted a fundraiser for Adams’ campaign in 2020 with Rachel Atcheson, a top aide at City Hall.

Another top Adams adviser, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Phil Banks, has together with Adams been friendly with Montgomery since they all served together in the NYPD.

Banks’ detailed daily schedules, obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request last year, show he met with Montgomery twice in 2022 in his official capacity, including once in February of that year at his private office.

Banks and City Hall have declined to say what the purpose of those meetings were.