When one of Orange County’s top Democratic Party power brokers, Melahat Rafiei, got caught up in the FBI’s investigation into Anaheim last week, there were immediate calls from the state and local Democratic Party officials, with many calling on her to resign all her positions and take a step aside.
But not Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan.
She was one of the few public officials who initially stood firm by Rafiei, calling her a “friend and advisor.”
Following the announcement of the FBI’s investigation, Rafiei publicly identified herself as Cooperating Witness 1, described by FBI officials as a confidential source in their affidavit who wore a wire to multiple meetings with Anaheim officials to aid them in their investigation.
The affidavit is part of an FBI corruption probe into Anaheim City Hall, which led to former Mayor Harry Sidhu resigning and the Angel Stadium land sale getting canned this week.
[Read: FBI Reveals What Many Anaheim Residents Felt For Years, City Hall is Run By The Chamber of Commerce]
According to the documents released by the FBI, 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. CW1 agreed to cooperate with the FBI during CW1’s interview. The complaint was dismissed without prejudice based on the government’s motion. CW1 has been assisting the FBI since the date of his/her arrest.”
In footnotes, agents continued, with special agent Brian Adkins writing “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. Based on the government’s interaction with CW1 and CW1’s counsel, I believe CW1’s motive for cooperating in this investigation was to receive leniency for the federal criminal violation CW1 was originally arrested for, as well as other possible criminal conduct.”
On Tuesday, Rafiei began to publicly dispute that she was ever arrested by the FBI, claiming through a spokeswoman that the documents had it wrong and that while she was detained, she was allowed to leave.
FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller declined to comment, but said the affidavits are accurate in a text message to a Voice of OC reporter.
[Read: Key Witness for FBI Anaheim Probe Disputes Feds’ Account That She Was Arrested Before Cooperating]
When Rafiei’s name originally came up, Khan was one of her strongest defenders, putting out a statement calling her a “friend and advisor.”
“I also want to be unequivocal in my support for my friend and advisor, Melahat Rafiei. I have seen her integrity and ethics up close and personal. She is a leader who deserves credit for rooting out this corruption,” Khan wrote in a post on her Facebook and Twitter last Friday. “I stand with her, and believe our justice system will do its job and clear her name.”
Less than a week later, she issued a new statement.
“I am horrified by what I have learned in the last week about the depth of manipulation of the public, our institutions, and our communities,” Khan wrote in a second statement posted exclusively on her Facebook page on Wednesday. “The press has reported that a former consultant for my campaign, Melahat Rafiei, is a cooperating witness in the investigation, unrelated to her work on my campaign. Ms. Rafiei is no longer involved in any way with my campaign.”
When asked by Voice of OC about the second statement, Khan said that the only thing that changed for her was that Rafiei was no longer working as a campaign consultant.
“I don’t have any contact with her. I still consider her a friend and I hope that justice will be served,” Khan said in a phone call with Voice of OC Thursday morning.
While Khan did not say in any of her statements when she became aware of Rafiei’s cooperation in the investigation, Ann Solomon, Rafiei’s spokesperson, said Rafiei called and informed all of her clients about her role in the investigation in February.
“I was on the phone with her through the process. She told every one of her clients what was going on in February,” Solomon said in a Wednesday phone interview. “Every one of them knew.”
But when Voice of OC followed up a day later with Solomon to confirm whether Khan had been notified, she said she didn’t have a full list of clients and could not say for sure whether specific people were informed.
Cory Allen, who served as both Khan’s assistant on city staff and worked for Rafiei’s campaign consulting company Progressive Solutions Consulting, is still working for Khan, but left Progressive Solutions this month according to his LinkedIn page.
Khan did not respond to a follow up text from reporters asking when she first became aware of Rafiei’s work with the FBI.
This isn’t the first time this year that Khan has issued seemingly competing statements on a controversial issue.
In March, she was called out for having Ergun Kirlikovali, who openly disputes the existence of the Armenian Genocide, serving on her mayoral advisory committee after a video surfaced showing the two laughing together at a meeting over a basket of Turkish delights.
[Read: Irvine Mayor Under Fire From Armenian Community Over Association With Genocide Denier]
Initially, she stood by him, commenting that her political opponents would do “whatever it takes” in a since deleted Tweet.
“This video purposefully mistranslates a conversation about candy through fake captioning to create this despicable attempt at distorting my views,” Khan wrote. “My record of calling out racism, acts of hate, and making it easier for victims of hate to report crimes stands on its own.”
A few days later, Khan sent out a second message that’s still available.
“I have learned a lot and wanted to offer this apology to the #Armenian community,” Khan wrote in an intro to her video. “It’s imperative as leaders that we recognize when we miss the mark, commit to doing better and building trust with those we’ve hurt.”
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