Builder facing indictment was a major Adams donor

Mark Caller in a 2022 appearance on CUNY TV.
Screengrab/CUNY TV

This article was originally published on  by THE CITY

On the evening of August 10, 2021, Eric Adams joined a rooftop party in Brooklyn where a crowd of real estate industry figures awaited him, each of them bearing gifts. It was a month after Adams’ victory in his hard-fought race to become the Democratic mayoral nominee and he was busily harvesting donations from those eager to show support for the man overwhelmingly favored to become the next mayor of the City of New York.

That morning, a breakfast fundraiser at a Manhattan law firm active in land use issues netted the candidate $38,750 in contributions. He picked up $20,250 more at a later event with healthcare executives and doctors. Another soiree, at a hotel in the Rockaways, yielded $25,925 for his campaign coffers. 

But his biggest haul of the day came on the Brooklyn rooftop. The host was a successful developer and investor in commercial and residential projects around the city named Mark Caller. The party was held atop Caller’s office building on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood where his firm, The Marcal Group, is headquartered. 

Once all donations from the gala had been collected, Adams’ campaign was $47,050 to the better. Almost a third of that money, $15,400, came from members of Caller’s family, with the rest from his friends and business associates, records obtained by THE CITY via a freedom of information request show. 

Even in a campaign that ultimately took in nearly $9 million in private donations, it was the kind of political generosity that stood out. 

Now, the previously undisclosed fundraiser stands out for a much different reason. 

In coming days Caller is expecting to be indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney on charges that he provided a luxury apartment at below-market rent to Eric Ulrich, a former City Council member and Adams appointee, in exchange for official favors. 

Ulrich, a Republican ex-Council member from Queens who bucked his party in 2021 to support Adams’ mayoral bid, is also expected to be charged. After Adams took office, he was appointed a senior advisor to the mayor.  A few months later, Adams named him city buildings commissioner.  The post put Ulrich, who held no management experience other than handling his Council staff, in charge of a sprawling agency of some 1,700 employees, one that is crucial to the city’s construction industry and notoriously prone to corruption.

The job didn’t last long. In November, five months after his appointment, Ulrich was forced to resign after it was revealed that the D.A. had seized his cell phone during an investigation into a mob-tied gambling ring. 

Ulrich did not return repeated requests for comment. His attorney Sam Braverman has said he won’t comment until charges are filed.

A spokesperson for the D.A. declined comment.

A string of allegations involving Adams donors

It’s unclear what favors Ulrich is alleged to have provided for Caller. The developer has been involved in significant construction projects that needed city approvals. Since 2020, Caller has built at least four new projects in the Rockaways, part of Ulrich’s former Council district. Just two weeks before he hosted the Adams fundraiser, Caller won a zoning change approval from the city planning commission to add a gym to a new condominium project he built on Beach 116th Street in Rockaway Park. That’s the complex where Ulrich lived in a fifth floor apartment near the ocean with two bedrooms and two baths. Units there currently range from $700,000 to $1.4 million; listed rents go from $3,000 to $4,100.

Campaign records show Caller was an early supporter of Adams’ mayoral bid. In December 2019, nearly a year before Adams officially announced his candidacy, Caller and his wife, Rivka Spitzer, made donations of $1,000 apiece to Adams’ campaign. After Adams became an official candidate, the campaign returned $600 of Caller’s own donation. That’s because, due to his quest for city land use assistance for his Rockaway condo project, he is considered someone doing business with the city and limited to donations of $400 to candidates for citywide office. His wife’s donation was unaffected.

Caller did not respond to requests for comment. His attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said he couldn’t comment concerning the fundraiser. But he said any allegation that his client had bribed Ulrich is false. “If that’s what the indictment alleges then I think the prosecution is proceeding on a flawed theory,” he said. “The apartment was obtained by Ulrich before he became commissioner, and to my understanding he paid a market rent.”

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office issued this comment: “As we have previously stated, we will allow this investigation to run its course and will continue to assist the DA in any way needed. And, while we do not discuss private conversations, to avoid speculation, the mayor has not received any requests from the Manhattan DA surrounding this matter and has never spoken to Mr. Ulrich about this investigation.”

Whatever the specifics, the pending indictments present the latest in a string of troubling allegations involving Adams donors and the prolific fundraising by his mayoral campaign. 

In July, Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg announced indictments against six individuals, including a former NYPD inspector who was once close to Adams, for allegedly using a “straw donor” scheme to generate public matching funds for the mayor’s campaign. Under an expanded city program implemented by the city’s Campaign Finance Board for the first time in the 2021 race, the matching funds multiplied the value of certain donations as much as eight times. Wiretaps and emails cited in the indictments showed the defendants eager to win credit from the incoming Adams administration for raising substantial sums to aid the campaign.

Last month, an investigation by THE CITY revealed more apparent straw donors: Three people who had been listed as having made donations to fundraising events for Adams in Queens and Brooklyn said they had never made the contributions. A fourth person said she had been reimbursed with cash after writing her own check for $249 to the campaign. 

In addition to Caller, the D.A.’s new case is also expected to cite two other prodigious fundraisers for Adams’ campaign. Anthony and Joseph Livreri, brothers who own a restaurant in South Ozone Park, Queens, where Ulrich allegedly took part in mob-tied illegal gambling, are also likely to be indicted, according to a report in the New York Times that outlined their fundraising activity.

On August 8, 2021, two days before Caller’s party for the candidate, the Livreris, along with Ulrich and others, co-hosted an event for Adams at Russo’s on the Bay, a popular venue in Howard Beach, Queens, which was also part of Ulrich’s former Council district. The event raised $140,900 for Adams, the largest haul of any fundraiser during his campaign, according to campaign records obtained by THE CITY in a freedom of information request.

As a Council member, Ulrich hired Joseph Livreri in 2019 as a $26,000-a-year staff aide handling constituent services. Although Livreri’s name surfaced last year in the D.A.’s investigation, he continued to hold the post under Ulrich’s successor in the Council until this summer, the Daily News reported.