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De Blasio Fundraiser Tied to Businessman Whose Staff Made Unusual Donations

By  James Fanelli and Murray Weiss | May 16, 2016 12:15pm 

 Rud Morales, an Inwood nightclub manager, is a top fundraiser for Mayor Bill de Blasio and served on his inaugural team and the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City. She also dates Alex Amanollahi, a businessman and club owners whose employees made suspicious contributions to de Blasio's campaign.
Top Fundraiser Dates Businessman With Suspicious Donations
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INWOOD — The owner of a beauty supply business whose employees made suspicious donations to Bill de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign once dated a top de Blasio fundraiser who is a fixture in the Upper Manhattan nightlife scene.

The owner, Sm-Ali (Alex) Amanollahi, and workers at his company, Primary One LLC, donated to de Blasio’s 2013 campaign at the encouragement of his ex-girlfriend Rud Morales, a bar maven who served on de Blasio’s inaugural committee and as a board member of a city nonprofit, sources said.

Amanollahi was also a victim of an alleged Ponzi scheme connected to the federal probe of NYPD brass and the mayor’s fundraising practices, DNAinfo New York has learned.

Morales and Amanollahi's relationship connects several aspects of the ongoing federal investigation into de Blasio's campaign, corruption in the NYPD and the Ponzi scheme allegedly orchestrated by West Harlem restaurateur Hamlet Peralta.

Neither Amanollahi nor Morales have been accused of wrongdoing, and federal investigators have not disclosed where the probe is leading.

DNAinfo reported last week that federal investigators were scrutinizing de Blasio’s campaign for straw donations. And a DNAinfo review of de Blasio donations showed unusual contributions made by two drivers for Amanollahi’s business.

Amanollahi, his family, his employees and his associates contributed more than $55,000 combined to de Blasio between October and December 2013, Campaign Finance Board records show.

 

My face, when I decide, we should go home early, but he has others plans! ?

A photo posted by Rud Morales (@mrsrmoraless) on

The Primary One drivers, who live in modest Queens apartments, each gave nearly $10,000 during that time. And one of them flip-flopped about making the donations.

Driver Rafael Zepeda initially told DNAinfo that he contributed $9,450 to de Blasio’s campaign, but hours later said that he didn’t. Records show Zepeda gave two donations to de Blasio, including a $5,000 contribution he made via an Oct. 27, 2013, fundraiser at the Inwood nightclub Negro Claro Lounge.

The fundraiser was co-hosted by Morales, 41, who was the general manager of the Negro Claro until December 2015, when the state Liquor Authority canceled its liquor license.

The hour-and-a-half event — which was attended by well-heeled businessmen — raised more than $213,000, according to records that the de Blasio campaign submitted to the Campaign Finance Board.

Morales told DNAinfo New York that she believes the reported fundraising amount is inaccurate and said that her event only took in roughly $65,000.

Morales is a go-to fundraiser in Upper Manhattan who has also hosted events at Negro Claro for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat.

She served on de Blasio’s transition committee after his mayoral victory in November 2013.

De Blasio also appointed Morales to the board of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a nonprofit chaired by de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray. On both boards, Morales lists her employer as Primary One. 

De Blasio’s public schedule records show that Morales also had a one-on-one meeting with him in his City Hall office on April 1, 2015. 

In a statement, Morales said she is a big supporter of de Blasio.

“I am not a politician and I don’t know the rules and regulations about politics, fundraising and everything that’s involved in that world,” she said. “But I believe Bill de Blasio has a good heart and the best intentions and is looking out for the community, especially for children. If I had to go out and support him again, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Morales’ associates describe her as a skilled rainmaker who belongs to a tight-knit circle of women involved in politics and the city's Dominican communities.

 

Her connections to politicians helped Negro Claro, which Morales helped open in 2011. The popular lounge had a history of noise violations and neighborhood complaints.

Records show that Espaillat wrote a letter to the State Liquor Authority last July, asking its chairman to drop fines against Negro Claro and to let the lounge keep its liquor license.

The SLA subsequently canceled Negro Claro’s liquor license in December after it racked up 31 violations between May and August of 2015.

In 2012 Espaillat and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez also wrote letters in support of a liquor license application by Cairo NYC, an Inwood nightclub affiliated with Morales. The application was later withdrawn.

Espaillat defended the letters of support in a statement.

"Senator Espaillat has always served diligently as an advocate for his constituents, including our small immigrant businesses, who are the backbone of our communities," the statement said.

Amanollahi has also had his problems in the booze business — as he was a victim of Peralta's alleged Ponzi scheme.

Peralta, who once owned the Hudson River Cafe, persuaded Amanollahi to invest in his plans to expand his liquor business on West 125th Street in Harlem, according to sources. But Amanollahi was never repaid his investment, the sources said.

Federal investigators arrested Peralta last month, accusing him of scamming investors into pouring money into the bogus liquor business. Prosecutors said he spent $1.2 million of the investors’ money on clothes and food for himself. 

Federal investigators said Peralta’s scheme is connected to a sweeping probe of pay-for-favors schemes involving the NYPD and de Blasio’s fundraising for his mayoral campaign and his city nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York.

The probe is also looking at two businessmen, Jona Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg, who have ties to former NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks and de Blasio.

Rechnitz and Reichberg were also on de Blasio’s inaugural committee. Rechnitz was also a victim of Peralta’s alleged Ponzi scheme, according to sources.

Dan Levitan, a spokesman for the de Blasio campaign, said Morales and others were chosen for the inaugural committee for their support.

“The transition committee was a large, ceremonial group of more than 70 New Yorkers, including supporters and community leaders reflecting the diversity of New York," Levitan said. "We selected many supporters to join as an acknowledgement of their work and support for the campaign.”

Amanollahi, who lives in a $4 million mansion in Glen Head, Long Island, runs his beauty supply business out of a Glendale warehouse. He also operates the Elmhurst club Amadeus, which Morales also helped open.

Campaign finance records show that Amanollahi and his family also gave $55,000 to Schneiderman’s campaign on July 15, 2014. He also contributed $2,700 to Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland on Jan. 10, 2016.

He did not respond to requests for comment. 

Additional reporting by Katie Honan