Orange County Democratic Party leaders are increasingly calling for the resignation of Melahat Rafiei, a longtime power broker and political consultant to Democratic campaigns all over the county – after disclosures this week that she was arrested by the FBI for attempted bribery in Irvine and later helped steer agents toward Anaheim.
Rafiei has been a longtime political player in Orange County, as former head of the county’s Democratic Party and the current secretary to the state party. She also runs Progressive Solutions Consulting, a campaign business that works for multiple Orange County politicians.
She also serves on the Board of Directors for the OC Fair and as a member of the Anaheim city culture and heritage commission, a seat she was appointed to by former Anaheim Councilman Jordan Brandman, who resigned last year.
Rafiei confirmed to Voice of OC reporters on Thursday she’s Confidential Witness 1, or CW1, in the FBI filings against Todd Ament, the former CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, alleging the city is run by a business cabal behind the scenes.
Rafiei did not return requests for comment on this article Friday morning.
In their affidavit, FBI agents acknowledge that Confidential Witness 1 or CW1, cooperated with their investigation. Yet they also added detailed allegations, noting that cooperation later ceased.
“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,” wrote FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins in the filing charging Ament.
“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.
After considering the information in the FBI affidavit, Ada Briceño, chair of the local Democratic Party of Orange County and one of Rafiei’s biggest supporters, is openly calling for her to resign from all of her positions in the state, within the party and beyond.
“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.” Briceño said, adding that she’s referring to all party positions as well as Rafaiei’s gubernatorial appointment to the OC Fair Board.
Amar Shergill, chair of the California Progressive Caucus, also tweeted on Thursday calling for Rafiei to resign.
State Senator Josh Newman called on Rafiei to resign Friday afternoon, saying that while she is innocent until proven guilty she should “take a step back,” from her role in the party.
But there are also local elected officials who want to see the results of an investigation before passing any judgment.
“Innocent until proven guilty,” said Irvine Councilwoman Tammy Kim, who endorsed Rafiei’s bid for the state party secretary seat. “I don’t know the details enough. I saw her statement, and she said she did nothing wrong, so I will wait to see what unfolds.”
After publication of this article, Kim reached out to reporters and said she thought Rafiei should step aside while the investigation is underway.
Rafiei was one of Kim’s consultants in her 2020 city council campaign, and was paid at least $10,000 according to her campaign finance filings reviewed by Voice of OC.
State Senator Tom Umberg, who also endorsed Rafiei’s candidacy for the secretary position for the California Democratic Party, also called on her to step aside until the investigation was finished.
“I am concerned about the very serious allegations regarding political corruption in Anaheim and Irvine. Until these cases are resolved, Ms. Rafei should step down from her governmental and political positions and discontinue her political activity,” Umberg said in a statement to Voice of OC reporters Friday afternoon.
A spokesperson for Katie Porter, who endorsed Rafiei’s bid for the secretary position, declined to comment on the issue Friday morning.
Voice of OC reached out to every Orange County Democrat listed as Rafiei’s endorsers on her campaign website, and is still waiting to hear back from many of them.
Other residents of Orange County have also called on Rafiei to resign, such as Kathleen Treseder, an Irvine City Council candidate and climate activist who helped get the OC Power Authority started.
“If I’m elected to Irvine City Council and someone tries to bribe me, I’ll say “no” and contact the FBI. You should be able to trust your elected officials to look out for the best interests of the community,” Treseder tweeted.
“I call on Melahat to resign immediately.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporter and a Report for America corps member, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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