Skip to Content
Eric Adams

Eric Adams’s Legal Defense Trust Attorney Thanks Hell Gate for Bringing Questionable Donations to His Attention

People who are doing business with the City—and their spouses—aren't allowed to contribute.

Mayor Eric Adams and the attorney who oversees his legal defense trust Vito Pitta are seen side by side in a photo illustration.

Mayor Eric Adams and the attorney who oversees his legal defense trust, Vito Pitta (Mayoral Photography Office / Getty Images)

Mayor Eric Adams told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that the hundreds of people who have donated to his legal defense fund have done so for the right reasons.

"New Yorkers called and they said that, you know, we want to help," Adams said. "People have known my character and they said, we want to help." 

The rules that govern these trusts, which were created by the City Council in 2019 to allow elected officials to raise money to address investigations that are unrelated to their official jobs, set clear boundaries for people who want to donate. The maximum contribution amount is $5,000, and the trust cannot accept money from the elected official's subordinates, or people who have business dealings with the City—defined as people whose names are in the City's Doing Business Database—as of the date of their contribution. For the latter group, their spouses are prohibited from donating as well. Donors must also submit a signed statement affirming they are complying with the law.

But according to the documents filed by Mayor Adams's legal defense trust on Tuesday, two $5,000 donations came from the spouses of people who are in the Doing Business Database.

Trina Cayre and Sarah Cayre gave a total of $10,000 to the fund on December 19, 2023, according to the trust's disclosures; Trina is married to Joseph Cayre, the billionaire behind the real estate company Midtown Equities, and Jack Cayre, Joseph's son, is married to Sarah. Both Joseph and Jack Cayre's names appear in the City's Doing Business Database. The Cayres' portfolio also includes Casa Cipriani, which is one of the mayor's favorite private clubs.

"The law clearly says spouses of people in the Doing Business Database are not allowed to contribute to legal defense funds," John Kaehny, the executive director of watchdog group Reinvent Albany, told Hell Gate.

We asked Vito Pitta, the attorney who is overseeing the mayor's legal defense fund, about these contributions, and whether he had confidence that they were vetted properly. In an email, Pitta responded that the Doing Business Database does not include the spouses of those on the list, and that the trust engaged in its own "extensive" vetting process, though Pitta noted that the trust must also rely on the signed statements from the donors themselves.

"We appreciate you bringing this to our attention," Pitta wrote of the Cayres' contributions. "As we continue our ongoing review of all donations received by the Trust, if we determine that these are in fact prohibited donations, we will of course return them in accordance with the cure provision of the Legal Defense Trust Law."

It's unclear if the Cayres or any of the donors submitted signed statements to the trust. We asked Pitta about this, and he did not respond. A spokesperson for the Mayor's Office referred our questions to the mayor's campaign. As of the time of publication, Evan Thies, a rep for the campaign, has yet to respond.

But there are hints that Mayor Adams's 2021 campaign was aware that Jack Cayre was in the DBD. Political campaigns wishing to take advantage of the City's public matching funds are also limited in how much cash they can receive from people who are in the City's DBD—there's a $400 maximum for contributions to mayoral campaigns, and a $250 max for donations to City Council campaigns. 

According to City Campaign Finance Board records, a large portion of Jack Cayre's political donations have been returned to him over the years in amounts that suggest that campaigns have spotted his name on the DBD, including the mayor's.

Records show that Cayre gave Adams's 2021 campaign $900, and $500 was returned; he gave Adams's 2025 reelection campaign $2,000, and all but $400 was returned. This dynamic has also played out in other campaigns he has given money to, including the campaigns of City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams; 2021 mayoral primary candidate Ray McGuire; and the 2017 Republican candidate for mayor, Paul Massey. 

Another member of the Cayre family, Joseph's son Michael, contributed $5,000 to Adams's legal defense trust.

Hell Gate left a message for the Cayres with Midtown Equities, and we'll update if they respond.

The City's Conflict of Interests Board, which is charged with enforcing the laws governing the trusts, declined to comment specifically on the Cayres' contributions.

Adams's legal defense fund's expenditures (screenshot from COIB)

Reinvent Albany was one of a handful of good government groups that supported the creation of the legal defense trusts back in 2019 as a "lesser evil" to say, using campaign funds, but Kaehny remains concerned about the COIB's capacity to review contributions, and what he described as gaping loopholes in the City's Doing Business accountability law—namely, that clients of lobbyists are not included in the database, even though they're clearly "doing business" with the City.

"If you're the CEO of let's say, a real estate company, and you hire lobbyists, you don't have any 'doing business relationship' with the City—your lobbyist does," Kaehny said. "So despite the fact that you're paying the lobbyist to go achieve some goal of yours, whether it's getting a contract or influence government, it's your lobbyist that has to report a 'doing business relationship,' not you." Kaehny added, "We would love to see that fixed but until you have a mayor and City Council that are reform-minded, it's not going to happen."

City records show that in 2023, Midtown Equities spent $50,000 to lobby government officials, including Department of Buildings Commissioner Jimmy Oddo.

Mayor Adams created his legal defense trust in November, after it was revealed that federal investigators had launched a probe into his 2021 mayoral campaign. Since then, the defense trust has raised more than $732,000, many of it from prominent New Yorkers and supporters of the mayor. The crypto mogul Brock Pierce, real estate agent-about-town Eleonora Srugo, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg all donated the $5,000 maximum amount allowed. Adams's former chief of staff Frank Carone and members of Carone's family donated a total of $20,000. Queens State Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar chipped in $2,500. (Visitors to Hell Gate's Eric Adams Table of Success will recognize many of these names.)

According to the disclosures, the trust has spent around $440,000 so far. Of that amount, $397,000 has gone to the law firm of WilmerHale, which employs the mayor's former chief council Brendan McGuire, who is assisting in Adams's defense. Pitta's firm has collected $7,500, $9,750 went to fundraising efforts, $18,000 went to "vetting and investigative services," and $6,400 was spent on "forensic data collection."

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Give us your email address to keep reading two more articles for free

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Hell Gate

How ‘What’s Poppin?’ and ‘Subway Oracle’ Turn NYC Into TikTok’s Tinseltown

Fallen Media is changing the way the world sees New York, one viral clip at a time.

NYC Comptroller: The NYPD’s $22 Million Gunshot Detection System Flags an Awful Lot of Noises That Don’t Seem to Be Gunshots

Police spent 427 hours in one month alone chasing alerts that didn't turn out to be confirmed gunshots, a new report finds.

June 20, 2024

The Adams Administration Is Denying Roughly Half of Migrants’ Shelter Applications

While deciding who gets shelter, there's been confusion about what exactly the City is allowed to ask during the screening interviews.

June 20, 2024
See all posts