‘I thought if I helped raise some money, I can get a job. But that didn’t work out.’- Ahlam Jaoui
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
A high-profile cabby advocate whose wife needs the city’s OK for a women-only livery service admitted to The Post on Monday that he raised campaign cash for Mayor Bill de Blasio and funneled it through an unemployed Brooklyn woman.
Fernando Mateo, founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, came clean about the blatant violation of election law after The Post learned he had personally solicited a donation for Hizzoner and then had Ahlam Jaoui take credit for it.
The 31-year-old Bay Ridge woman, who has no political or fundraising experience, claims in campaign finance records to have collected 15 donations totaling $18,800 that were given to the de Blasio campaign in January.
One of those contributions came from Oscar Herasme, a Florida lawyer, who confirmed he gave $2,500 to the mayor’s 2017 re-election bid — but when asked about Jaoui said, “It wasn’t through her.”
“I find it odd that the bundler for any donations is someone I never met,” said Herasme, who declined to say who solicited his contribution.
Another $2,500 donor, Damian Rodriguez of First Class Car & Limo, noted he has no particular loyalty to de Blasio.
“Fernando Mateo called me and asked me to give some money to that woman,” he said. “I’ve known him for a long time, since 1997, so I help him when I can.”
The revelations come as de Blasio’s fundraising operations are being probed by both New York US Attorney Preet Bharara and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
Mateo, a well-known Republican supporter, told The Post that he “called my people” to give money to Democrat de Blasio’s campaign and had Jaoui take credit for the donations. Mateo’s name does not appear on Jaoui’s January campaign finance report.
He claims that his motive was to help Jaoui land a city job.
“That’s the way politics works,” Mateo said. “If Ahlam worked hard for his candidacy, you’d think [the mayor] would say, ‘I employ thousands of people, why not at least bring her in for an interview?’
“But she didn’t get s–t. That’s a pisser because I thought she would get something out of it,” he added. “There are people who raise millions for a president and earn an ambassadorship. When you work hard, you get rewarded or at least remembered.”
Mateo denied that he was seeking to curry favor with the administration to get his wife Stella’s app-based car service off the ground, explaining that while he and de Blasio “haven’t always seen eye to eye, I think he is an honorable man who can do good for this city and that’s why I tried to raise money for him.”
“I’m the epitome of what it is to be a good New Yorker,” said Mateo, who is also president of the group Hispanics Across America.
In 2014, Jaoui was photographed wearing a Muslim headscarf and was quoted as saying how she wanted to be a driver for Stella Mateo’s SheRides business.
“It’s an opportunity for Muslim women,” Jaoui said at the time.
Stella Mateo has since renamed her business either SheHails or SheTaxis, although it appears the project is currently on hold.
“The people developing the app weren’t as good as they said they were going to be,” Fernando Mateo said. “So we’re still working on it.”
Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesman Allan Fromberg said the Mateos sought information about getting licensed in March, but “nothing came of it.”
Jaoui appeared with Mateo at a 2013 rally protesting the suspension of Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez for using performance-enhancing drugs, and she’s being represented in a pending Manhattan DWI case by a lawyer who has joined Mateo at several news conferences.
Jaoui’s role as a de Blasio fundraiser was first reported Monday by the City Council Watch blog.
“I just looked at the filing and didn’t recognize this name, so I thought I would try to figure out who she was,” blogger Seth Barron said. “Typically, bundlers are fairly well-known or powerful people . . . It seemed totally anomalous.”
Jaoui said she learned about bundling campaign contributions from “someone that worked for the prior administration,” adding, “I thought if I helped raise some money, I can get a job. But that didn’t work out.”
Under state election law, it’s a misdemeanor for anyone to make a campaign contribution “in any name except his own, directly or indirectly.”
In 2013, the mayoral campaign treasurer and a fundraiser for then-city Comptroller John Liu were sentenced to 10 and four months in prison, respectively, after they were convicted of federal fraud charges in a straw-donor scam.
Of the Mateo/Jaoui bundling, de Blasio campaign spokesman Dan Levitan said, “Jaoui was listed as the intermediary based on information provided to the campaign. We will review the filing and amend if appropriate.”
Also on Monday, de Blasio’s campaign said it still hadn’t decided whether to return suspicious donations that are tied to one of its biggest supporters, the Broadway Stages production company, three weeks after The Post first reported the contributions.
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Additional reporting by Reuven Fenton and Rich Calder