Melahat Rafiei, a longtime leader in Orange County’s Democratic Party, resigned Sunday night from her position as secretary of the California Democratic Party and state representative to the Democratic National Committee.
A host of Orange County lawmakers and party leaders increasingly called for her resignation this week after news came out that she was arrested by the FBI in 2019.
According to an affidavit from FBI special agent Brian Adkins, Rafiei was arrested on attempted bribery after federal agents allege she told a cannabis company that hired her she planned on bribing two Irvine City Councilmembers in exchange for favorable legislation in the city.
Rafiei previously identified herself as CW1 in the affidavit, while the cannabis company employees are identified as CHS1 and CHS2.
“CW1 began to devise a scheme whereby CW1 would solicit money from CHS1 and CHS2 with the intention of paying bribes to two elected members of the Irvine City Council in exchange for the Council Members performing official acts, resulting in the passage of favorable cannabis laws,” states the affidavit.
Rafaiei did not respond to Voice of OC text for comment on Sunday night.
Following her FBI arrest, federal agents write that Rafaiei cooperated with investigators in their work to expose a ruling resort cabal working out of the Anaheim chamber of commerce, disclosed publicly this past week.
Federal agents also write that cooperation has ceased and the charges against her were dropped “without prejudice,” meaning they can come back at any time.
Rafiei has categorically denied any wrongdoing, and in her resignation statement said she was stepping back because “sensationalist press reports” were distracting from the mission of the party.
“These reports are speculative and often flat out wrong: I have never attempted to improperly influence any elected official,” Rafiei tweeted Sunday evening.
But in their affidavit, the FBI said she only began cooperating after her arrest.
“CW1 was arrested on a complaint (based on the 2018 corruption scheme involving Irvine officials) and subsequently brought to the FBI office in Orange County where CW1 was interviewed,” Adkins wrote. “CW1 agreed to cooperate with the FBI during CW1’s interview.”
While Rafiei began to cooperate with the investigation, she says she only did that because of her dedication to the party and her goal to root out corruption.
“It was in fact my dedication to these principles that led me to accept the request by federal investigators and prosecutors to serve as a cooperating witness in an ongoing investigation to uncover corruption among Republican operatives and elected officials in Anaheim,” Rafiei said. “I was not compelled to cooperate. Any assertions to the contrary are false.”
However, while Rafiei initially cooperated with investigators, she later stopped cooperating, and Adkins says he thinks she lied to them about other illegal activity.
“I also believe CW1 has omitted material facts to investigators throughout CW1’s cooperation with the FBI, including additional instances where CW1 has offered to pay bribes to elected public officials,” Adkins wrote in the filing charging Todd Ament, the former CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, with mortgage fraud.
“CW1 and the government have not been able to reach an agreement on a pre-indictment resolution, and at this time, there is no further cooperation expected.”
To read the affidavit, click here.
Rafiei’s resignation also came after multiple members of the Democratic party called on her to resign publicly, while multiple sources confirmed over a dozen other lawmakers privately reached out to Rafiei and asked her to step aside.
Ada Briceño, chair of the local Democratic Party of Orange County, was one of the first to call for Rafiei’s resignation.
“The Democratic Party will never condone misconduct. I trust the facts will come out in due course and the Democratic Party of Orange County supports a full investigation of corruption against any individual,” Briceño said in a Friday morning phone call with Voice of OC. “I think she should resign.”
Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan, one of Rafiei’s closest political allies, was one of the only elected officials in Orange County to stand by Rafiei.
“The recent news about the FBI’s investigation into public corruption in Anaheim is disappointing and sows mistrust in local government,” Khan posted on Twitter. “I stand with (Rafiei) and believe our justice system will do its job and clear her name.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporter and fellow for Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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