Former Obama adviser in custody, faces hate crime charges after halal cart confrontation

ByJoe Torres and Eyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, November 23, 2023
Ex-Obama adviser arrested, charged after halal cart confrontation
CeFaan Kim has more on the arrest of Stuart Seldowitz.

UPPER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- A former Obama administration adviser was taken into police custody Wednesday and faces hate crime charges after a confrontation at a halal cart in Manhattan was caught on camera, police say.

Stuart Seldowitz lives around the corner from the halal cart. Several videos captured the former diplomat allegedly harassing the vendor about his Egyptian roots and Islamic faith. Seldowitz was fired from his work with lobbying and communications firm Gotham Government Relations.

A hate crime investigation was opened by the NYPD after Seldowitz was filmed allegedly harassing a food cart vendor on the Upper East Side.

He was taken into custody on Wednesday and now faces one count of aggravated harassment of race or religion and four counts of stalking as a hate crime. All of the charges are considered misdemeanors.

Seldowitz had nothing to say to reporters as he was walked out of the 19th Precinct in handcuffs.

Joe Torres has more on the confrontation.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Hussein, 24, was back to work at the cart Wednesday after filing a complaint of aggravated harassment with police. Hussein recorded at least one of the videos of Seldowitz.

The owners of the cart on the corner of Second Avenue and East 83rd Street say there have been several ugly confrontations at the cart over the last two weeks amid conflict in the Mideast.

"I don't sleep well hearing those kinds of harsh comments regarding the Prophet Mohammed and asking the young kid if he raped his daughter and all that," said Islam Moustafa, co-owner of the halal cart.

Multiple videos circulating online show Seldowitz talking with a halal cart vendor, at different times of day and wearing different outfits. It is not clear how many times Seldowitz was recorded at the cart or what days the videos were filmed.

"Why should I go. Why should I go? Tell me why I should go? I'm standing here. I am an American. It's a free country," Seldowitz said in one of the videos circulating on social media.

Zak Ettamymy, a construction manager working nearby, witnessed a confrontation. He described the situation as harassment, and says he tried to step in to stop it.

"He had a lot of hatred. He was saying a lot of mean things and I said, 'Listen, this is not a place or time for this. You probably need to walk away from this gentleman and let him work.'"

In a phone interview with an ABC News producer, Seldowitz admitted he overreacted and regrets what he said, but that there were no threats or intimidation.

The halal cart workers say if Seldowitz is truly sorry for what he said, they await a face-to-face apology.

And while the apology has yet to come, there was an outpouring of support Wednesday for Hussein.

Friends and strangers gathered around a plastic folding table on the sidewalk. The table was provided by a loyal customer and local resident.

"I think it's very important to highlight, she's Jewish," said one of the supporters Husam Kaid. "She lives in the building. She's a friend and a customer who's been coming here for a while."

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