About a year ago, not long after Eric Adams was sworn in as the mayor of New York, an old friend and church leader named Lamor Whitehead went to an auto shop in the Bronx, to drop off a Mercedes-Benz G-Class S.U.V. that had been in a crash. Whitehead led a small church in Brooklyn called Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries. People called him Bishop. The shop he visited, No Limit Auto Body, was operated by a man named Brandon Belmonte, who was involved in real estate. Federal prosecutors would later refer to Belmonte as “a businessman.”
The Mercedes was a twenty-five-thousand-dollar job. Belmonte paid the thirteen-thousand-dollar bill for a rental replacement while the work was getting done. Whitehead wanted more. “He basically says, ‘You got to give me another five grand,’ ” Belmonte recalled. “I said, ‘Bro, the job was only twenty-five thousand. Thirteen and five is eighteen. The parts were seven grand. I’m gonna make zero.’ ” It occurred to Belmonte that Whitehead wasn’t trying to negotiate—he was asking for a kickback. He promised to make it worth Belmonte’s while. “I got City Hall in my back pocket,” Whitehead said, according to Belmonte.
Whitehead explained that he was close with Adams, going back to when Adams was Brooklyn borough president. He told Belmonte that Adams had once offered him a fifty-million-dollar construction contract. “Eric’s doing big things,” Whitehead continued. “I gotta get mine.” He mentioned a property that Belmonte was developing in the Bronx. “He said, ‘Eric Adams can make it a homeless shelter, and you’ll get city benefits,’ ” Belmonte recalled. Whitehead offered to broker a meeting with Adams. “He kept telling me we’re gonna make millions together,” Belmonte said. “And he said, ‘You gotta give me the five grand or I’m gonna beat you up.’ ” (Whitehead, through his lawyer, denied this and other accounts of his actions described in this article.)
On a friend’s advice, Belmonte called an investigator at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan. “I said, ‘I think the mayor of New York is on the take,’ ” Belmonte recalled. “And he said, ‘What do you mean?’ ” The investigator patched in colleagues, and Belmonte told them his story. “I said, ‘The mayor of New York City is trying to extort me, through someone else,’ ” he said. The next morning, F.B.I. agents arrived at Belmonte’s door. They asked Belmonte to call Whitehead, and began recording. Belmonte told Whitehead that he was ready to do business with him, and with the Mayor.
Since the early days of his political career, Eric Adams has had to fend off allegations of corruption. In 1994, when Adams, then a thirty-three-year-old transit cop, mounted a long-shot campaign for Congress, his opponent, Representative Major Owens, accused him of staging a break-in at his own campaign office. Nothing came of a police investigation into the matter. In 2010, during Adams’s tenure as chairman of the State Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, a report from the state inspector general implicated him in a bid-rigging scheme for a Queens “racino”—a gambling and racetrack establishment. Adams maintains that the report was orchestrated by Republicans.
Some of Adams’s rivals in the 2021 New York City mayoral race believed that reporters, constrained by the pandemic and distracted by a crowded field, didn’t dig enough into Adams’s background. “We all know you’ve been investigated for corruption everywhere you’ve gone,” Andrew Yang said to him, during a debate in the Democratic primary. With Adams, though, it has sometimes been difficult to distinguish between the unusual and the unethical. For example, city records show that he and a woman named Sylvia Cowan purchased a one-bedroom apartment together in 1988. When The City, a local news Web site, asked Adams’s 2021 mayoral campaign whether he still owned the property, the campaign claimed that Adams had “gifted” his half to Cowan.
Later, Adams amended fifteen years of financial-disclosure forms to reflect that he still owned half the apartment. He blamed his former accountant, Clarence Harley. Harley had gone through “some difficult times,” Adams said. “I had an accountant who was homeless,” he explained. “I let him continue to do his job, even when he lived in a homeless shelter and because of that, it caused him to make some bad decisions.” It came out after the primary that Harley hadn’t simply fallen on hard times. Until 2017, he had lived in an affordable-housing building in Harlem, where he did the books for the building’s board. The board discovered that Harley appeared to have siphoned tens of thousands from the building’s accounts, and had evicted him shortly thereafter. (Harley could not be reached for comment.)
Adams has dismissed much of the critical coverage he’s received as racism. “Black candidates for office are often held to a higher, unfair standard—especially those from lower-income backgrounds such as myself,” he said just before primary day, when the Times examined his past fund-raising practices. The newspaper took a close look at the One Brooklyn Fund, a nonprofit that Adams controlled while serving as Brooklyn borough president. The fund received donations from real-estate developers, some of whom had business with the city. Adams denied any impropriety. “I hope by becoming mayor I can change minds and create one equal standard for all,” he said.
On January 1, 2022, Adams was sworn in. He soon appointed to important posts an array of friends and close connections. For his deputy mayor for public safety, he chose Philip Banks III, a former N.Y.P.D. official who had resigned in 2014, amid a federal investigation into favor trading and bribery. For his chief of staff, he picked Frank Carone, a Brooklyn Democratic Party power broker who has drawn scrutiny for his business dealings. He tried to install his brother to run mayoral security at a salary of two hundred and ten thousand dollars a year. (An ethics board forced him to knock the salary down to a dollar.) He appointed Timothy Pearson, another N.Y.P.D. friend, to be a senior adviser on public safety, even as Pearson continued to work an outside job—at the same racino for which Adams had been investigated. Lisa White, the former treasurer of the One Brooklyn Fund, with whom Adams once shared an apartment, was installed as deputy commissioner for employee relations at the N.Y.P.D., at an annual salary of roughly a quarter million dollars.
Adams is hardly the first New York mayor to have dubious friendships. But Adams came into office with a special category of associates, men he had spent time with socially during his two terms as Brooklyn borough president, from 2014 to 2021. He has called a few of them his “mentees.” Among them are two brothers, Robert and Zhan Petrosyants, who pleaded guilty to financial crimes, in 2014, and who run a Manhattan restaurant, La Baia, where Adams, as mayor, dines frequently. Lamor Whitehead was also a protégé of the Mayor’s. And he made sure everyone knew. In May, Whitehead claimed to have negotiated, directly with the Mayor, the surrender of a man who was wanted for murder. Adams didn’t deny this. He described the bishop as just one of many younger men whom he’s taken under his wing. “He’s my mentor,” Whitehead told the Post in May. “We’ve done a lot of work in Brooklyn when he was the Brooklyn borough president. He helped me out a lot.”
This was true. During Adams’s time as borough president, Whitehead, a convicted fraudster and identity thief, used Adams’s name to promote his church, and to give a boost to his business interests. Adams, meanwhile, opened doors for the younger man, offering advice and inviting him to speak at high-profile events. “I think it’s important to hear from some of our young people—a young pastor, Bishop Lamor Whitehead,” Adams said, introducing Whitehead at a press conference in 2017, in the wake of a hate crime.
This past July, Whitehead made national headlines when videos of him being robbed during a church service, while wearing what was reported as several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of jewelry, went viral. The robbery prompted closer inspection of Whitehead’s church; The City reported that a former parishioner had sued Whitehead, accusing him of stealing ninety thousand dollars from her after offering to help her buy a house. Adams called Whitehead after the robbery, to offer his support. “He just encouraged me to keep my head strong,” Whitehead said.
Brandon Belmonte was not the first person to go to law enforcement with the suspicion that Whitehead and Adams were engaged in corruption. Both men deny that their relationship goes beyond that of mentor and mentee. “Everybody is trying to connect me and the Mayor with some fiduciary experience,” Whitehead told me, a few weeks ago. “We don’t talk about real estate. We don’t talk about stocks. We don’t talk about none of that. We talk about life.” Some people who have worked with Adams suggested that his relationship with Whitehead is representative of a character flaw: the Mayor is unwilling to distance himself from people he’s let into his life, even when it would be politically wise to do so. “I have no experience of Eric crossing the line,” a local politician said. “That’s different from the company he keeps.”
A few days before Christmas, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan announced that Whitehead had been arrested. Prosecutors in the office’s Public Corruption Unit said they’d caught him claiming to have influence at City Hall while trying to shake down Belmonte. Adams was not accused of any wrongdoing; prosecutors said that Whitehead, while making his overtures to Belmonte, “knew” that he could not obtain the city-government “actions” he was promising. But it’s not clear how the government reached that conclusion. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment. When I asked a City Hall spokesperson whether Adams or anyone on his staff had been interviewed or subpoenaed as part of the investigation, the spokesperson referred me to comments the Mayor made after Whitehead’s arrest. “I have no comments on the federal investigation,” Adams said. He called the allegations “troubling,” but he wasn’t ready to wash his hands of Whitehead, as a politician might be expected to do upon hearing that an associate dropped his name while trying to extort someone. Adams said he would let the investigative process play out.
Whitehead is forty-four years old. He has bright brown eyes and a wide, engaging smile. He often spends several hours a day live-streaming on Facebook and Instagram, where he promotes his church and his luxurious life style, and denounces his enemies. “Designer for days,” he once said, giving his followers a virtual tour of his walk-in “prayer closet,” which was stuffed with clothing from Gucci, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton. Whitehead, who lives in a multimillion-dollar house in Paramus, New Jersey, advertises himself as an ascendant community leader in a multiplicity of realms: business, politics, religion, and entertainment. He has said that one of his missions is to serve as an emissary between “the streets” and “the church.” In 2018, after the rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine pleaded guilty to making sexually explicit videos of a thirteen-year-old girl, Whitehead spoke in court on behalf of the rapper. “The bishop had to come through,” 6ix9ine said in a video he posted on Instagram. “We had a situation.”
There are people all over the city who claim to have been conned, burned, harassed, lied to, or otherwise hurt by Whitehead. Many have reported Whitehead to the authorities, and several have come away feeling that Whitehead was protected by his relationship with Adams. “I could tell he was name dropping again using Eric Adams again and trying to discredit me,” a pastor named Robin Brown wrote in an e-mail to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, in 2014, describing her attempts to report Whitehead to the N.Y.P.D. “I have lost all faith in the system.” (Brown declined to comment for this article.) “I’ve tried to report him on several occasions at the local precinct, but to no avail,” the Reverend Benny Custodio, of Immanuel–First Spanish United Methodist Church, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, wrote in a comment on a blog post about Whitehead in 2017. “This cardboard bishop is currently at my church doing the same thing he has done in the past, using the church to fatten his pockets. He knows the system very well and uses it to his advantage based on the close relationship he has with our borough president, Mr. Eric Adams.” (Custodio declined to comment when I contacted him several months ago; he died in November.)
Many Brooklyn church figures, business associates, and former friends of Whitehead’s refused to speak to me for this article, because they said they feared him. “When he got angry, you could feel that menace,” a man named Brian Etta told me recently. Etta showed me documents indicating that, in 2006, while Whitehead was working for a mortgage broker, Whitehead helped sell Etta’s house in Brooklyn and then pocketed proceeds from the sale. City records show that the property was later transferred to a company controlled by Whitehead. In 2013, Etta volunteered for Eric Adams’s first campaign for Brooklyn borough president, and, at Adams’s inauguration, he spotted Whitehead at Brooklyn Borough Hall. “I thought, This is brazen,” Etta said. “A guy who wants to have an image of being squeaky clean, and this guy who is an actual criminal?”
Not long after Etta met him, Whitehead was convicted of a startling fraud on Long Island. Using information that he’d obtained from a girlfriend, an employee at a Honda dealership in Patchogue, Whitehead stole the identities of more than a dozen of the dealership’s customers. He used those identities to purchase luxury vehicles. A prosecutor called it one of the largest identity-theft cases Suffolk County had seen. During his trial, Whitehead got ordained as a pastor, and wore clerical collars to court appearances. “I don’t fear you,” he told the judge at his sentencing, in June, 2008, after being found guilty of more than a dozen counts of identity theft. “I fear God.”
One of Whitehead’s lawyers was André Soleil, a former Republican political operative. Soleil, who has lived abroad for the past several years, was disbarred in absentia in 2019, after being accused of bilking a Harlem nonprofit, and of stealing from escrow accounts he set up during real-estate transactions. “I will note that I’ve been merely accused,” he told me, when I called him recently.
Soleil spoke with regret about the role he played in Adams and Whitehead’s relationship. “I introduced them,” he said. A City Hall spokesperson disputes this, claiming that Adams and Whitehead met at “an anti-violence event with rappers” on an unspecified date “around” 2014. But there are videos and photographs available online of Adams and Whitehead together as early as 2013.
Soleil claims he is also a friend of the Mayor’s. “Eric and I were close,” he told me. According to Soleil, they met in the nineteen-nineties, when Soleil worked as an aide to Rudy Giuliani in City Hall and George Pataki in the governor’s office, and when Adams was still a cop—and, for a time, a Republican. Soleil helped organize fund-raisers during Adams’s first run for Brooklyn borough president. An e-mail invitation to a fund-raiser during Adams’s first Brooklyn borough-president campaign lists Soleil as a “co-chair” beside Tiffany Raspberry, a current senior adviser to Adams at City Hall, and Jesse Hamilton, who succeeded Adams in the state senate.
Soleil’s legal specialty was real estate. He played both sides of Brooklyn’s gentrification boom, representing both working-class homeowners and the aggressive real-estate companies that flipped their homes. Whitehead, who for several years in the aughts worked as a branch manager for a real-estate company called Custom Capital Corporation, was one of the few criminal defendants that Soleil ever represented. Whitehead was sentenced to at least a decade in prison, but he got out in the summer of 2013, after just five years. He would later tell people that his convictions had been overturned. He also said that he planned to get into politics.
Soon after his release, Whitehead looked up his old lawyer, and began hanging around Soleil’s law office. Whitehead would visit Soleil at his office and ask him about technical legal and real-estate matters. A few times, Soleil told me, he came back to his office to find Whitehead there, without permission, reading documents on his desk.
Soleil remembers a holiday party that he threw the year Whitehead came home. In a restaurant in Cobble Hill, Soleil’s Hasidic real-estate-investor clients and his Black political-world friends mingled. Soleil had invited Adams, who gave a speech. Whitehead, in Soleil’s telling, had more or less invited himself. Halfway through the night, Soleil became aware that Whitehead and Adams were engaged in what Soleil remembers as an “intense” conversation. “Shortly after that,” he said, “it appeared that they had become best buddies.”
Soleil, along with others I spoke to for this story, believes that Adams saw something of himself in Whitehead. They were both charismatic, ambitious, and brash. They had both been raised by single, working-class mothers in the outer boroughs: Adams in Jamaica, Queens, Whitehead in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Both had also experienced early run-ins with the law. Adams was beaten in the basement of a Queens police precinct when he was fifteen years old. Years before his identity-theft conviction, Whitehead was charged with two counts of forgery in the third degree in New Mexico. (The case was dismissed after he made full restitution to the victims.) People close to Adams say that he’s conscious of how easily his life could have been different, had he not joined the city’s police ranks. “Lamor is like his id,” Soleil said. “We all like our id.”
Early into his friendship with Adams, Whitehead was living with a friend named Aurora Gordon, who had an apartment in an affordable-housing tower in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Gordon, a decade older than Whitehead, had escaped from the World Trade Center on 9/11, and worked in the office of a tech company. In her spare time, she ran a small organization called Battered 2 Beautiful, for survivors of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Gordon helped Whitehead found a youth-outreach ministry called Leaders of Tomorrow Brooklyn. They soon spun it out into an independent church. “She thought that it was really going to be something big, and she thought he was an honest person,” Gordon’s sister told me.
Whitehead, who in his early twenties had worked small jobs in the music business, and modelled streetwear, had a knack for getting close to the famous and the powerful. He referred to the rapper Foxy Brown, a Brooklyn icon, as his cousin. On Facebook and Instagram, he began chronicling his encounters with musicians, boxers, actors, radio personalities—and with Adams, the new borough president. Publicly, Whitehead referred to Adams as his mentor. Privately, he called him E. In one YouTube video from 2013, Whitehead interviews Adams at an event in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “We’re going to be doing a lot of things together,” Whitehead tells him. “Thank you for being a patriarch for our Black community. . . . Thank you for being an advocate for men.”
Whitehead and Adams met up at concerts, bars, and red-carpet events. Gordon told people she knew that Whitehead often got out of bed in the middle of the night, to go see Adams. With Adams’s help, Whitehead connected with other politicians, people in the business world, and N.Y.P.D. officials. Whitehead and Adams got together at Woodland, a restaurant on Flatbush Avenue where Adams liked to hang out after work hours. Woodland was the first restaurant run by the Petrosyants brothers, who now run La Baia. “This clique didn’t exist when the Mayor was in the state senate,” a consultant who worked for one of Adams’s rivals in the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary said, talking about the scene at Woodland. “It formed around 2013.” That was the year that Whitehead got out of prison, and when the Petrosyants brothers were indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, for conspiring with others to launder phony insurance payouts through shell companies. (They later pleaded guilty to lesser charges.)
Whitehead told people that Adams planned to appoint him to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and Adams asked community figures—political operators, business people, and religious leaders—to join a committee called Leaders of Tomorrow, run by Whitehead, which met on at least one occasion. “In politics, you run into everybody at the same meetings and stuff,” one attendee remembered. “This gentleman, Lamor, was new to a lot of us.” Whitehead’s appointment was so obviously wrong, the attendee added, that it “could not have been a mistake.”
Brooklyn borough president is a lofty-sounding title for a relatively limited position; it’s what remains of the office of the mayor of Brooklyn, a position that existed before 1898, when Brooklyn was still its own city. Today, the job is largely ceremonial. During his eight years at Borough Hall, Adams issued proclamations in honor of Whitehead’s friends, relatives, and connections in the music business, including Foxy Brown, who received a key to the city from Adams and Whitehead. Adams would declare July 31, 2016, to be Leaders of Tomorrow Brooklyn Day in Brooklyn, in honor of Whitehead’s “outstanding contributions” to the community.
A few weeks into his first term, Adams hosted a morning meet and greet at Brooklyn Borough Hall with local business leaders. City authorities later found that the event broke local political fund-raising rules by soliciting contributions to the One Brooklyn Fund. The night of the meet and greet, Adams co-hosted an event with Whitehead at a high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, advertised as a “One Brooklyn” event honoring Black History Month. Whitehead would use the One Brooklyn name for his own events, and in various promotional materials. (A City Hall spokesperson told me that the One Brooklyn Fund never gave money to Whitehead.)
Among a borough president’s remaining powers is a say in land-use and real-estate matters, such as neighborhood rezonings. In 2014, a community activist named Alicia Boyd hosted a meeting in her house to organize neighborhood opposition against a proposed rezoning east of Prospect Park—a proposal that Adams supported. “They wanted to turn Empire Boulevard into Times Square,” Boyd said. The night of the meeting, Whitehead showed up at Boyd’s house along with roughly ten other people. In Adams’s name, they shouted the event down. “He just carried on, he and his friends, yelling, screaming,” Boyd said. They accused her of being anti-Black, and of selfishly standing in the way of the first Black borough presidency in Brooklyn’s history, even though Boyd is Black herself. Pamela Yard, who also attended the meeting, remembers Whitehead signalling the end of his group’s pro-Adams intrusion with martial discipline. “It was like a scene from ‘Malcolm X,’ ” she said. “He did, like, a hand signal, and they all turned around, and they all walked out.”
Soleil found Adams to be a surprisingly cautious borough president—he treaded carefully, perhaps because he had his sights set on City Hall. Whitehead was an exception to this rule. “I thought that my friend Eric Adams was out of his goddam mind,” Soleil said. “He gave this guy a key to Borough Hall.”
The personal indulgence that Adams has extended to Whitehead, over the years, is at odds with Adams’s law-and-order public image. “It’s time for us to refocus our attention, not only as New Yorkers but as Americans, [on] the decent, innocent people who are the victims of crimes, not those who are committing crimes,” the Mayor said in October. With Whitehead, he has taken a different tack. “I was arrested at fifteen years old. . . . and because people embraced me when I was arrested, I embrace Lamor Whitehead,” Adams said in 2016, after a Post article revealed that Whitehead had made false claims about collaborating with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
“As a Black man, I have an obligation to mentor other Black men that have had negative encounters in their lives,” Adams said earlier this year, talking about Whitehead. “The Bishop lost his father—Arthur Miller was his name—in a police incident.” The murder of Miller, a Bahamian immigrant and prosperous businessman who was choked to death by police officers in Crown Heights, in 1978, was one of the most notorious acts of racist police violence in New York City history. The Reverend Herbert Daughtry, a Brooklyn civil-rights icon whom Adams has long considered a mentor, had helped to organize the community response. Later, Daughtry and other Brooklyn leaders would call for more young Black men to join the N.Y.P.D. Adams heeded the call. According to Whitehead, Miller’s death was an inspiration for Adams to start 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an organization denouncing racism inside the police department.
Arthur Miller had four children with his wife, Florence. Whitehead was born in April, 1978—six weeks before Miller was killed—to another woman. “When I first heard from this young man, I was in my twenties,” LoLisa Miller-Bradford, the youngest child of Arthur and Florence Miller, told me. Miller-Bradford remembers that Whitehead called her in the early two-thousands, claiming to be her half brother, and saying that he’d heard her family had received settlement money after Miller’s death. Whitehead hadn’t received money, he told her, and he wanted some in order to buy a Toyota Camry. Miller-Bradford said that she and her siblings offered to fly Whitehead to Florida, where they now live, to take a DNA test. He had declined.
In June, 2014, Miller-Bradford and her mother discovered that there had been a ceremony in Miller’s honor, on the block he was killed on. Adams and Whitehead had attended, and Adams had given a copy of an official proclamation about Miller to Whitehead. Florence Miller wrote an e-mail to Adams: “I do not want anyone using my husband’s name or the tragic cold blooded murder for publicity and/or personal gain,” she wrote. “I was also informed (I’m not sure if this is fact or fiction) that you are working with Pastor Whitehead on different endeavors which is not of my concern. However, if any of those endeavor’s consist of the use of my late husband’s name and/or his tragic death I am requesting it to be stopped.”
Miller-Bradford received a call from Whitehead, who screamed at her. Then she got a call from Adams. “Try to work this out,” she remembers Adams telling her. “I want to support your family.” The call left the Millers feeling that Adams had unfairly taken sides against them, a feeling that has only intensified in the years since, as they’ve received word of his continued support for Whitehead. “Mr. Adams has not supported anything that Arthur Miller’s real family has done,” Miller-Bradford said.
There were some who tried to warn Adams about Whitehead, and among those was Herbert Daughtry. Now ninety-two years old, Daughtry has kept up with the Miller family over the years. “When he first showed up, I was telling people, ‘Just be careful,’ ” Daughtry said, of Whitehead. “No matter whose son he is, if he’s guilty of doing these things that they say he’s doing, Arthur Miller’s memory cannot give him cover.”
According to Soleil, who grew up in the church and was a minister himself, the message that Adams’s treatment of Whitehead sent, particularly to the Black church community in Brooklyn, was that Whitehead could be trusted, and that he had the backing of “strong” political forces. “And that is how he was getting anywhere,” Soleil said. In the fall of 2014, Whitehead got approval to organize a gospel concert at the Barclays Center, the new arena in downtown Brooklyn. (A press release for the event noted that the concert would benefit Leaders of Tomorrow Brooklyn, and touted that Adams would attend as a “special guest.”) Marquee names in the gospel world signed on, but, behind the scenes, the planning was a mess. Whitehead repeatedly dismissed concerns about how he was raising money for the event, and how he would market it. “He kept saying, ‘I have the support of Eric Adams,’ ” someone involved with the concert said. “He just had no idea what he was doing.” The Barclays Center ultimately cancelled the event, despite the hundred and fifty thousand dollars that Whitehead had raised in order to put on the show. (Whitehead, through his lawyer, said that it was his own decision to cancel the Barclays concert.)
The concert was the turning point in Whitehead’s relationship with a number of associates, including his collaborator and roommate, Aurora Gordon. “It was your bad attitude and your rush to have money,” Gordon wrote to him, in an e-mail that November, explaining why the concert had fallen apart. She listed more than a dozen people who were supposedly “falling back,” or distancing themselves from Whitehead. Whitehead responded defiantly: “For your information Eric didn’t fall back!”
That month, Adams and Whitehead attended a ribbon-cutting at Forno Rosso, a pizza restaurant opened by the Petrosyants brothers. By then, the brothers had pleaded guilty in their federal case. On November 10th, Robert Petrosyants’s lawyer submitted character testimonies to the judge who would sentence his client—including a letter from Whitehead, who claimed that the brothers were involved in an anti-childhood-obesity program he was running. “Without the tireless efforts of Robert and Zhan, this program would never have been offered,” Whitehead wrote. I called Robert Petrosyants and asked how he knew Whitehead. “He was one of the customers that used to go to a restaurant that I managed,” he told me. “Never had anything to do with the guy’s agenda. I don’t know why he’s linked to us.” When I reminded Petrosyants of the letter Whitehead wrote to the judge on his behalf, and asked if he remembered the childhood-obesity program, he said, “Not me, but my brother did something. I don’t recall, it was so long ago.”
By that point, Whitehead had got back into real estate. He offers online real-estate classes to his parishioners; one attendee told me that the classes solicited participants’ personal data, including Social Security numbers, and donations, which were termed “love offerings.” In early 2015, Whitehead’s ex-wife, Ieshah Williams, accused Whitehead and André Soleil of conspiring to steal the title to her house, in an official grievance with the state court system. In response, Soleil wrote to the court suggesting that Whitehead had acted on his own, stealing Soleil’s notary stamp and forging a power of attorney in his law firm’s office. (Williams declined to comment.)
Gordon eventually kicked Whitehead out of her apartment. He responded by filing a lawsuit against her, prompting the affordable-housing complex she lived in to investigate whether she’d been illegally subletting. Anguished, Gordon went to Adams, to complain about Whitehead. Adams told her that he didn’t want to get involved, according to her sister. Then Gordon went to the Brooklyn D.A.’s office.
Gordon told the D.A. that her understanding was that Adams had promised Whitehead money. “I worked 1 1/2 years for Lamor believing he was in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams who [ . . . ] promised we would be funded by end of year,” Gordon wrote in an e-mail to the office’s senior executive for law-enforcement operations. She told the office about the hundred and fifty thousand dollars that Whitehead had raised for the Adams-backed Barclays Center concert. The money had come from Ron Borovinsky, one of the founders of a Brooklyn real-estate company called My Ideal Property, which claimed to have flipped hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of homes in the historically Black neighborhoods of central Brooklyn. Some of the company’s operators were later indicted by the federal government for duping lenders and borrowers in real-estate deals. (Borovinsky was not criminally charged; the case is ongoing.) In her e-mail, Gordon said she had learned that Ingrid Lewis-Martin, Adams’s closest adviser, had tried to get Adams to stay away from Whitehead. “Eric is not listening,” Gordon wrote. “He and Lamor are in business together.”
The Brooklyn D.A.’s office ultimately pursued two investigations into Whitehead during Adams’s first term as borough president. One investigation was based on the information supplied by Gordon. The other stemmed from Ieshah Williams’s house-title allegations against Whitehead and Soleil. According to someone familiar with the office’s operations at the time, Whitehead was one of several people close to Adams whom the office looked into under Ken Thompson, the D.A. who had pledged to stamp out government corruption. Both investigations into Whitehead ended without charges. “Federal authorities are generally seen as better equipped at conducting complex corruption investigations,” the source said. (A spokesperson for City Hall told me that Adams never spoke to the Brooklyn D.A. about Whitehead.)
Gordon died in November, 2020, of complications from COVID-19. According to her mother and sister, on at least one occasion she spoke to the F.B.I. about Whitehead. She kept records from her days of working with him, some of which they shared with me. To her last days, Gordon believed that Whitehead’s arrest was imminent. “Bozo, you’re going to see, they’re going to get him,” she told a friend not long before she fell ill.
On May 22, 2022, Daniel Enriquez, a forty-eight-year-old researcher at Goldman Sachs, was riding the Q train, when he was shot and killed by a fellow-passenger. Two days later, police arrested a suspect in the case, Andrew Abdullah. Reporters gathered outside an N.Y.P.D. precinct house in Chinatown, where Abdullah had been taken for a perp walk. Moments later, a gray Rolls-Royce S.U.V. pulled up outside the precinct house. Whitehead got out of the car, wearing a Fendi blazer and a large episcopal ruby ring. He told reporters that he had negotiated Abdullah’s surrender directly with Adams. (Abdullah’s family had gone to Whitehead knowing that he had a relationship with the Mayor, and had requested his help.) When asked about this at a press conference, Adams said, “All I wanted was this bad guy off the street, and whoever wanted to participate in a system that’s doing so in any way, that’s good enough for me.”
Kristin Bruan, Abdullah’s attorney at the Legal Aid Society, told me that Whitehead’s actions in the lead-up to Abdullah’s arrest were reckless. “He could have gotten someone killed,” she said. Initially, Whitehead had told her that he wanted Adams and Abdullah to come to his church, where the Mayor would personally take the suspect into custody. She said that Whitehead seemed to think that Adams was on board with this plan. Bruan, who was already negotiating Abdullah’s surrender with the N.Y.P.D., believes that Whitehead’s intrusion alarmed the authorities, prompting officers to pounce on Abdullah, guns drawn, outside a Legal Aid office downtown, where he had gone to meet with Bruan before surrendering. After Abdullah was taken away, Whitehead got into an argument with Bruan. “Stay away from my client,” she told him, to which Whitehead had responded, “What did you say, you dumb bitch?”
By that point, the F.B.I. was already investigating Whitehead. Early one morning last spring, Brandon Belmonte, of No Limit Auto Body, met federal agents at a Kohl’s parking lot in Paramus. They handed him a short stack of hundred-dollar bills, totalling five thousand dollars, to give to Whitehead. Belmonte stuffed the bills in his left pant pocket. He then drove to Whitehead’s house. “He just kept talking,” Belmonte said. “ He got more and more excited when he saw the money. He was like, ‘I have the key to the city!’ ” Soon after, Whitehead asked Belmonte for a larger sum: five hundred thousand dollars, to renovate some apartment buildings in Hartford, Connecticut. When Belmonte didn’t send him the money, Whitehead was livid. “He said, ‘You just lost City Hall,’ ” Belmonte said. “And he started going crazy.” In the weeks that followed, Whitehead would call him thirty or forty times a day, shouting and cursing at Belmonte whenever he picked up.
On July 24th, Whitehead’s church was robbed. It was reported that Whitehead and his wife had been wearing, between them, two seventy-five-thousand-dollar watches, two twenty-five-thousand-dollar rings, and at least three crosses worth a combined value of fifty thousand dollars. Speculation began to circulate online that the crime had been some kind of setup for an insurance payout.
Whitehead spent the subsequent weeks in a frenzy, denying the accusations made against him, picking fights online (at one point he threatened to beat up the comedian D. L. Hughley), rotating lawyers, and trying to salvage his public image. “Chief Maddrey, when this happened, he was over here in ten minutes,” he said at a press conference a few days after the robbery, mentioning the senior N.Y.P.D. official Jeffrey Maddrey, who had joined Whitehead and Adams at past events. In late September, after federal prosecutors in Brooklyn announced the arrest of two of three men suspected of holding up Whitehead’s church, the bishop claimed to have been vindicated. “This is a win today, because the narrative that was posted and presented was that I had something to do with this robbery,” he told reporters outside Brooklyn federal court. “I just really want to thank God.”
In December, Adams graded his performance during his first year in office as a B-plus. At a press conference after Whitehead’s arrest, Adams was asked what grade he’d give the bishop, as a mentee, “in light of the federal case against him now.”
“First of all,” the Mayor said, “I think that when you look at my work around mentoring and helping people, it’s a fairly impressive one—many of these young people have gone on to do some good things with their lives.” But, as for Whitehead, “he should rate himself,” Adams said. “That’s not my job, to judge others.”
Adams declined to be interviewed for this article. A spokesperson for City Hall told me that the Mayor and Whitehead had never worked together, or made money together. “He hasn’t met with him since he became mayor,” the spokesperson said of Whitehead. “He’s seen him from time to time at others’ events where they both happen to be at.”
Whitehead also declined numerous requests to speak. A few days before he was arrested by the F.B.I., I waited for him outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, where there had been a hearing for the men charged in the church robbery. I’d found Whitehead’s Rolls-Royce S.U.V. parked on the street. Whitehead shook his head when he saw me, and got into his car. “Stop with those questions,” he said. “No, we never did no real estate. We never did anything. I never did one business transaction at all with Eric.”
After his latest arrest, one of Whitehead’s lawyers issued a statement indicating that the bishop denied all the new charges against him. Whitehead was soon back to live-streaming, and he hinted that he had damaging information to reveal about Belmonte. (Belmonte has a criminal record that dates back to his early twenties.) On New Year’s Eve, Whitehead hosted his church’s first in-person event in several months. As midnight approached, he preached from the Book of Job. Some twenty people attended.
Outside the courthouse in Brooklyn, Whitehead had ended our encounter by driving away. I’d walked two or three blocks when I heard him shouting at me, from his car, across the street. He told me to meet him at the corner. He said he wanted to answer the question about Adams more fully. When I approached, he rolled down the window on the passenger side so that I could lean in. “I want you to know, when you ask me about the Mayor, I want you to understand that there is nothing,” he said. “He was a mentor. He’s helped me as a man. And that’s it.” Then he drove off. ♦