By Jack Bradley
The Irvine City Council Jan. 24 failed to pass a motion to launch an independent investigation after political consultant Melahat Rafiei last week admitted engaging in a bribery scheme in the city in 2018.
In an FBI corruption probe, Rafiei, 45, also agreed to plead guilty to one felony count of attempted wire fraud against one of the cannabis dispensaries seeking her service, according to the Department of Justice. She founded Progressive Solutions Consulting, a Long Beach-based consulting firm where she worked with cannabis industry clients and local politicians.
In her plea deal, the former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County admitted that between April and June 2018, she agreed to give at least $225,000 in bribes to two Irvine city councilors—in exchange for introducing and passing a city ordinance allowing her clients to open a retail store in the city.
But the council would have needed a majority of three members to vote for the item to pass.
During the council meeting on Tuesday, newly elected Councilwoman Kathleen Treseder called for an independent investigation into Rafiei’s dealings with the council in 2018 and was supported by Vice Mayor Tammy Kim.
“It’s just not just for people to be able to buy our votes,” Treseder said during the meeting. “It’s impossible for us to govern fairly if our votes are up for the highest bidder.”
But her colleague Councilman Larry Agran said such would not be good for the city. He was supported by Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilman Mike Carroll.
Agran said he is “sickened by public corruption,” adding that it is not necessary to launch another investigation in addition to the FBI’s, which will likely keep probing into the matter.
Once the FBI has “discover[ed] there was criminality,” they won’t quit, he said, adding that it is the council’s responsibility to cooperate fully with the federal prosecutors.
Additionally, Agran said a city-led investigation would be costly and become a subject of ridicule for the city.
Khan and Kim, who both said Rafiei was a consultant for their campaigns, denied connection with the guilty plea.
Former Councilwoman Melissa Fox came forward Wednesday in a statement to multiple media outlets saying she met with Rafiei and her client who owned a cannabis business in Irvine in 2018.
Fox said weeks prior to that meeting, and independent of it, Rafiei asked her to perform legal work for her consulting firm. Fox said she gave her a quote for her hourly fee, but was not hired.
She also said that quote was provided to the FBI as “indicia of an intended bribe to get me to introduce a cannabis ordinance in Irvine.”
“I was shocked and very angry that she had used this proposed agreement for my legal services to involve me in any corrupt or illegal activity,” she said.
Rafiei’s lawyer, Alaleh Kamran, said in response to multiple media outlets, “To the extent that Ms. Fox is stating any facts that are within her personal knowledge I would defer to her.”
Former Councilwoman Christina Shea and Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, who were both on the council in 2018, told The Epoch Times they have never been approached by Rafiei for a bribe.
“It is disappointing that Rafiei thought she might be able to bribe some of my colleagues and some of the folks in Anaheim apparently,” Wagner said.
The other former councilors, Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott, could not be reached for comment.
The federal investigation and Rafiei’s ongoing involvement in it were made public in May 2022.
Affidavits described the FBI probe into local pay-to-play schemes in Anaheim involving the city’s sale of Angel Stadium and revealed Rafiei’s arrest in 2019 on suspicion of bribing public officials.
Rafiei said she was a cooperating witness in the investigation, according to media reports.
A few days later, she resigned from her elected roles with the Democratic Party of California and as state representative to the Democratic National Committee.
She is expected to make her initial appearance in the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana on Feb. 6. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.