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De Blasio Campaign to Return $32,200 After DNAinfo Finds Shady Donations

 Mayor Bill de Blasio distanced himself Sunday from two businessmen embroiled in a federal corruption probe of the NYPD that has expanded to his campaign fundraising practices.
Mayor Bill de Blasio distanced himself Sunday from two businessmen embroiled in a federal corruption probe of the NYPD that has expanded to his campaign fundraising practices.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

GLENDALE — Mayor Bill de Blasio's campaign will return $32,200 in contributions to his 2013 election after a DNAinfo New York investigation showed that the money — all from a Queens businessman, his employees and his associates — raised concerns of possible straw donations.

Campaign spokesman Dan Levitan said Friday that it had informed the city Campaign Finance Board that it would return the money to seven donors "as soon as feasible."

"The campaign holds itself to the highest legal and ethical standards and in light of the questions raised about these contributions has elected to return them," Levitan said.

READ MORE: How Everyone is Connected in the City Hall/NYPD Corruption Probe

 Rud Morales, a Mayor Bill de Blasio fundraiser, dates Sm-Ali Amanollahi, the owner of a beauty supply company whose employees made suspicious donations to de Blasio's campaign.
Rud Morales, a Mayor Bill de Blasio fundraiser, dates Sm-Ali Amanollahi, the owner of a beauty supply company whose employees made suspicious donations to de Blasio's campaign.
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Instagram/Rud Morales

DNAinfo New York reported on May 5 that federal investigators — who have opened a probe into the mayor's fundraising practices — are scrutinizing de Blasio's campaign for possible straw donations.

The city’s campaign finance law prohibits individuals from contributing more than $4,950 to a candidate running for a citywide office during one election cycle. And it’s illegal to give someone else money to donate to a campaign.

De Blasio's campaign — like others in the city — required all of its donors to sign a form affirming their contributions were made from their own personal funds.

Levitan told DNAinfo New York that the donors getting money back were Sm-Ali Amanollahi, the owner of Primary One, a beauty product wholesaler in Glendale; three of his employees, Rafael Zepeda, Jose Zepeda and Angela Parra; and three Amanollahi associates, Ralph Scopo, Charalambos Anastassopoulos and Giulliano Bruschi.

Six of the donors also contributed a total of $27,000 to de Blasio's post-election transition committee, records show. However, Levitan said the transition team donations could not be returned because the committee is now closed.

Amanollahi, who dates a top de Blasio fundraiser, made the maximum-allowed donation of $4,950 to the campaign and the maximum-allowed contribution of $4,500 to de Blasio's transition team.

Both Zepedas, who are commercial drivers at Primary One and live in modest apartments in Queens, each donated $4,950 to the campaign and $4,500 to the transition team in less than two months time.

DNAinfo previously reported that when Rafael Zepeda was asked about the donations, he flip-flopped. Initially, he said he made the donations. Hours later, he said he didn't.

Parra, an executive assistant at Primary One, contributed $2,500 to de Blasio's campaign and $4,500 to his transition team.

Scopo's wife works for Amanollahi. He made the maximum contribution to de Blasio's campaign on Oct. 21, 2013, and donated $4,500 to the transition team on Dec. 10, 2013. Amanollahi made the same contributions on those dates.

Scopo, a vice president at a Manhattan recycling company, previously told DNAinfo that he made the donations on his own accord.

“You’re more than welcome to look into me and my wife,” he said. “We have no problems.”

Anastassopoulos, who works at a Ridgewood auto body shop, declined to comment on his $4,950 donation to the de Blasio campaign.

Bruschi, the head of an office equipment wholesale company in Fresh Meadows, donated a total of $9,450 to the campaign and the transition team. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Amanollahi previously declined to comment and has not responded to subsequent interview requests.

DNAinfo reported earlier this month that Amanollahi dates Rud Morales, a nightlife fixture in upper Manhattan who has thrown fundraisers for de Blasio, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat.

Morales co-hosted a fundraiser at the Negro Claro Lounge for de Blasio on Oct. 27, 2013. She also served on de Blasio's inaugural committee. De Blasio also appointed her to the board of the nonprofit The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.

Amanollahi is also a victim of a Ponzi scheme connected to the sweeping federal investigation into de Blasio's fundraising practices, his nonprofit Campaign for One New York, and high-ranking NYPD officials accepting payments in exchange for favors.

Federal investigators and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office are also examining whether the mayor and his associates coordinated fundraising efforts to use the county Democratic committees as straw donors to funnel money to specific state Senate candidates, circumventing limits on single donors.

CORRECTION - An earlier version of this story said that the de Blasio campaign was returning $56,700 in contributions to seven donors after a DNAinfo investigation. The de Blasio campaign is only returning $32,200 to the donors. The donors also gave $27,000 to de Blasio's transition team. However, the de Blasio campaign said the transition committee was closed and money could not be returned.