Orange County has been grappling with the release of an FBI affidavit alleging widespread corruption in Anaheim for nearly six months, and questions are beginning to grow over whether the investigation stopped at the city limits.
In the months after its release, the Mayor of Anaheim and a prominent Democratic party leader both resigned from their positions, the proposed sale of Angel Stadium collapsed and the CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges.
But after the initial affidavit, news about the investigation largely dried up, leading to questions of what’s next from the FBI.
That led to open questions of what other Orange County cities federal investigators could be looking at, with a sworn affidavit specifically pointing out plans for a bribery case in Irvine.
Kathleen Treseder, a candidate for Irvine City Council, is publicly claiming she’s spoken with the FBI multiple times about alleged corruption she’s witnessed in Irvine centered on Mayor Farrah Khan and Melahat Rafiei, who resigned from her post as secretary of the state Democratic party after she told Voice of OC she was a cooperating witness in the corruption probe.
Khan has denied there is any investigation into her, and a spokesperson for the FBI declined to state whether or not the mayor was under investigation – a standard procedure for the Department of Justice.
“We neither confirm or deny the existence of an investigation,” said spokesperson Lourdes Arocho.
Rafiei served as the chief consultant for Khan and several other Orange County leaders, in addition to serving on the state and county Democratic Party’s leadership teams.
In their affidavit, FBI agents said they arrested Rafiei for attempting to bribe Irvine City Council members for favorable cannabis legislation and then had her wear a wire for their corruption probe into the Angel Stadium sale.
While Rafiei has not currently been charged with any crime, the charges against her were dismissed without prejudice, according to the FBI affidavit – meaning they can be refiled at any time.
Investigators also say they think Rafiei lied to them, according to the affidavit.
“I think it’s important for the public to know this, and they may want to vote based on that,” Treseder said in an interview. “I can’t say what the FBI is doing, but I can tell the public what I witnessed.”
Treseder said she had a meeting with Rafiei with concerns about OC Power Authority CEO Brian Probolsky, and she hoped that Rafiei would use her influence with the mayor to help her consider removing Probolsky.
Probolksy has not returned calls seeking comment about the criticisms nor spoken to them publicly.
Treseder alleged that Rafiei said Khan would not work with climate activists, and that Khan was protecting Probolsky in exchange for political favors.
Now, Treseder has said what the supposed favor was.
She alleges Probolsky was set to raise support for Khan among local leaders for a nomination to the California Coastal Commission in exchange for him keeping his position as CEO, despite questions over his record and lack of experience in the electrical industry.
While Khan’s name made the shortlist to potentially fill the seat on the Coastal Commission according to minutes from a meeting of the Orange County City Selection Committee, alongside Seal Beach Mayor Joe Kalmick and San Clemente Councilman Chris Duncan, she was ultimately not chosen.
To back up her story of the FBI investigating, Treseder shared multiple recordings with Voice of OC reporters of voicemails from agents trying to get in touch with her.
The clips were altered to remove the calling agent’s name, including one where the agent says they reached out after seeing a post from the Orange Juice blog discussing Treseder’s allegations.
“I saw an article in the Orange Juice blog referencing Melahat Rafiei and the Orange County Power Authority. I would like to talk with you about that if you have the time,” the agent said.
Rafiei said that Treseder’s account of the meeting was categorically false, adding that Nicole Capretz, leader of the environmental group Climate Action Campaign, had also been present.
“The meeting she described never happened,” Rafiei said in a statement, declining requests for an interview. “She wanted my advice on whether attacking the OCPA could help her campaign. I told her that trying to turn the non-partisan OCPA into a political football was a bad idea.”
“Ms Treseder now apparently thinks she has more to gain by demonizing me for the assistance I provided the FBI in investigating corruption in Anaheim,” Rafiei continued. “She would do better to focus on issues that matter to Irvine’s voters.”
While Treseder was originally one of the biggest proponents for the OC Power Authority’s creation, she’s become one of its largest critics, laying out concerns with transparency and a lack of experience at the top of the organization.
Capretz did not respond to requests for comment.
Khan also denied Treseder’s accusations in June and in a since deleted Twitter post from her official mayoral account beneath a post showing a video of Treseder’s accusations.
“First of all, there is no fbi investigation. Treseder and others repeatedly calling the FBI to investigate,” Khan wrote. “Second, Melahat was not arrested, there is no record of arrest. Third ‘she said’ is not proof, what help would a Republican be for a state commission appointment? None.”
Rafiei has publicly disputed that the FBI arrested her, but the FBI stands behind their affidavits and said they are accurate.
One OC activist who uses the handle @InMinivanHell, who posts on Twitter questioned why the mayor would use her official account to defend Rafiei, who the FBI have stated was arrested for planning to bribe two Irvine City Council members.
Khan then deleted the original tweet and responded with her personal, private account, only writing that there was no FBI investigation, but leaving out the defense of Rafiei.
In a follow up statement on her private Twitter, Khan claimed there was no FBI investigation against her, and that it was a political tactic ahead of the election to hurt her campaign, despite the fact that Treseder is running in a separate council race.
“Candidates with little to no accomplishments in the community are busy spreading misinformation and lies to distract from their non-existing achievements,” Khan wrote. “I am not under any FBI investigation. I have nothing to hide and have not received any political favors.”
In a statement to Voice of OC, Treseder said it was still an open question on why Khan had not called for Probolsky’s removal.
“A denial is expected. Yet, this statement does not address why Mayor Khan voted to hire an unqualified political operative, and why she has not called for his dismissal in the year and a half since. Of course the FBI are curious, as are Irvine residents.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.