Local Democratic power broker Melehat Rafiei accepted a plea deal from federal investigators today after she was caught up in a federal probe that rocked Anaheim City Hall last year.
Despite an explosive FBI affidavit that stated Rafiei was arrested in Oct. 2019 for attempting to bribe or steal from “programs receiving federal funds,” she denied it.
But today, Rafiei confirmed through her lawyer, Alaleh Kamran, she took a plea deal for one felony count of attempted wire fraud.
In a statement to Voice of OC, Kamran said Rafiei signed the federal plea agreement today, but said there were no conditions yet and those would be determined at Rafiei’s sentencing.
A date for her sentencing has not been set.
FBI officials didn’t return phone messages and emails seeking comment on Wednesday evening.
In an email statement forwarded to Voice of OC, Rafiei reached out to several OC political leaders and confirmed that she had accepted a plea deal in the “legal matter that has greatly altered the course of my life.”
“I have never hesitated to stand in the dark with others to help them navigate their way through difficult situations,” Rafiei wrote. “I can only hope that, given my contributions and achievements, my life and legacy will not be defined by this painful chapter, and that in time, my life will evolve well beyond this moment.”
Rafiei was a major player in both the local and state Democratic Party for years, serving as the former executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party and working as a consultant on several campaigns including Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan.
Yet last May, Melahat was referenced by the FBI in a stunning affidavit filed in state court at the eleventh hour, just before Angel Stadium was about to be sold off, alleging the entire deal was a corrupt pay-to-play scheme.
In the initial affidavits released by federal prosecutors last year, Special Agent Brian Adkins wrote that a key witness – identified as “CW1” – cooperated after being “arrested” by the FBI in October 2019 in connection with an alleged plan to pay bribes to two Irvine City Council members.
Rafiei later identified herself as CW1 to Voice of OC, but disputed the allegation that she’d been arrested, with her spokesperson Ann Solomon claiming she cooperated voluntarily.
“If she had been arrested, she would have been photographed, she would have been fingerprinted – none of that happened. No Miranda rights [were read to her]. She voluntarily answered their questions,” Solomon said last May.
At the time, Solomon also disputed the FBI agent’s sworn description that he believes CW1 “lied” to FBI agents, “omitted material facts to investigators” and “lacked candor at times.”
In the footnotes of the criminal complaint against the former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament for a series of fraud charges, FBI agents briefly described what they were investigating Rafiei for.
“The FBI has been investigating CW1 since approximately 2018 for violations of federal criminal law to include 18 U.S.C. § 666 (theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds), among others,” reads the complaint.
When asked about Rafiei’s complaints at the time of the affidavit’s filing in court last May, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the FBI stood by their earlier statements.
Following the controversy, Melahat resigned from her posts with the state and local Democratic Party, including the Democratic National Committee.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.