The Latest on Irvine and Anaheim’s Corruption Scandals
A powerful Democratic consultant has agreed to plead guilty to felony wire fraud as part of a wider corruption scandal involving Irvine and Anaheim city halls. Meanwhile, the Irvine City Council has decided not to investigate allegations of corruption by its members.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced the following in a news release last month:
The former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge for attempting to defraud one of her political consultancy firm’s clients. She further admitted in court documents that she agreed to bribe two members of the Irvine City Council – both on cannabis-related matters.
Melahat Rafiei, 45, of Anaheim, agreed to plead guilty to one count of attempted wire fraud. She is expected to make her initial appearance in United States District Court in Santa Ana on February 6.
Rafiei is the principal and founder of Progressive Solutions Consulting, a Long Beach-based political consulting firm. Rafiei was a longtime leader in Orange County’s Democratic Party and formerly served as secretary of the California Democratic Party and state representative to the Democratic National Committee.
Rafiei admits she agreed to give at least $225,000 in bribes to at least two Irvine council members in exchange for a cannabis legalization ordinance that would benefit her clients. One of the council members, referred to as “Elected Official 2,” has identified herself as Melissa Fox. However, Fox tells Voice of OC that she did not discuss accepting a bribe.
In her plea agreement, Rafiei explained how she disguised bribes to public officials as legal fees to avoid detection. She told the clients that Elected Officials 1 (still unidentified) and 2 (Fox) were both “on board” with the scheme.
Rafiei faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for the wire fraud charge.
You’re going to want to stay tuned because there is likely much more to come. Rafiei has been working closely with federal investigators since her arrest in 2019. The information she divulged led to those shocking FBI affidavits from last year describing a corrupt “cabal” of Anaheim officials and the business leaders who control them. Those revelations led to the resignation of former Anaheim mayor Harry Sidhu and the end of a controversial deal involving the sale of Anaheim Stadium. Sidhu is accused of ramming the deal through in exchange for $1 million in campaign contributions — a claim he denies.
Sidhu has not been charged and the federal corruption probes involving Anaheim and Irvine remain ongoing.