A longtime player in Brooklyn’s Democratic Party, whom Mayor Eric Adams recently appointed to serve as his “special assistant,” owes the city $55,269 for campaign finance violations associated with a failed City Council campaign, a recent lawsuit alleges.
Tommy Torres, a former district leader in north Brooklyn, started working in Adams’ office last September, according to his LinkedIn profile — the same month he was sued by New York City’s Campaign Finance Board. The suit has not been previously reported.
The board alleged that Torres failed to repay the city $37,651 in public campaign funds he never accounted for, plus another $17,618 in fines for several violations of the city’s campaign finance law, despite years of warnings, letters, and requests for information that went ignored by Torres dating back to 2018, court records show.
In order to qualify for New York City’s public matching funds program and unlock thousands of dollars in public funds to buoy their campaigns, candidates must agree to stringent reporting requirements. But Torres’ campaign failed to account for about a third of the money he got from city taxpayers, the campaign finance board alleged.
Adams and his administration have drawn criticism from government watchdogs for hiring close associates, friends, family members and party allies. Torres’ hire last fall now raises similar ethical quandaries given his outstanding debt to New York City taxpayers.
“The vast majority of candidates are able to comply with the campaign finance board rules without too much trouble,” said John Kaehny, the executive director of the good government group Reinvent Albany. “It takes a pretty poor effort to be able to find yourself in this type of situation.”
Torres didn’t return repeated email and phone requests for comment. Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the lawsuit against Torres.
“All potential employees at City Hall go through a vet, and we expect our staff to follow all city laws, regulations and procedures,” he said. Timothy Hunter, a spokesperson for the city’s Campaign Finance Board, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Torres is a longtime Adams ally who was appointed to serve as district leader in 2016 by Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Frank Seddio, though he was ousted from that role by a progressive challenger in 2020. Torres boosted Adams’ efforts as borough president at marches, parades and on his social media platforms, and later volunteered with Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign. Torres was among dozens of associates who partied with Adams on the night of his electoral victory, Gothamist reported.
According to Torres’ social media posts and LinkedIn page, he started working in Adams’ office as a “special assistant” last fall, which was previously reported by The City, though the scope and salary of that role weren’t immediately clear. He’s since appeared alongside Adams at various events, including a recent fire sparked by an exploding e-bike battery in the Bronx on Sunday.
Torres has snagged his share of tabloid headlines over the years, long before the latest lawsuit.
He reportedly collected a state salary from his girlfriend Naomi Rivera’s Assembly office while he was a full-time Board of Education gym teacher and coach, the New York Post reported. Later, when he served as an assistant principal at Brooklyn’s Progress High School, he faced criticism for being an absentee leader.
The allegations against Torres outlined in the city lawsuit stem from a 2017 campaign where he received nearly $100,000 in public matching funds in a failed bid to oust former Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who represented parts of Williamsburg and Bushwick at the time. Reynoso, who now serves as Brooklyn Borough President and represents a more left-leaning progressive flank of the borough’s Democratic Party, won re-election that year with 64% of the vote.
Over the course of that campaign, the city found Torres had violated its public financing rules six times. He failed to account for $14,000 in post-election expenses that were “impermissible based on their timing, amount and/or purpose,” though court records don’t specify what the specifics were. He didn’t file several periodic disclosures to the board; provided bank statements that showed $26,603 in spending he provided no receipts for; accepted money from a corporation; and never responded to a request for documents when the campaign finance board tried to audit the campaign, according to the board’s lawsuit.
By the end of Torres’ 2017 campaign, he’d collected $78,065 from donors and $94,362 in public financing, though he only ever reported spending $74,556, meaning his campaign coffers should still have nearly $100,000, campaign finance records show.
Frederick Schaffer, the chair of the city’s Campaign Finance Board, called Torres’ accounting failure “far beyond anything that [he’d] seen,” at a Nov. 18, 2021 board hearing — nearly a year before the Campaign Finance Board sued for the unpaid debt.
At that hearing, Torres didn’t deny the board’s findings, but contested how much money he had to repay. He explained he was having issues keeping up with the paperwork, in part because several of his campaign treasurers had quit because of sick parents, Hurricane Maria and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The campaign finance and the treasury was such an overwhelming experience for all of us,” he told members of the board. “My intention was to run a good campaign. It was a positive experience for me.”