Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan was one of many Orange County politicians to publicly say they cut ties with disgraced Democrat political power broker Melahat Rafiei last May, after learning she was arrested by the FBI and became a witness in the Anaheim corruption investigation. 

“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,” Khan said in a statement last May. “Ms. Rafiei is no longer involved in any way with my campaign.”

But city records obtained by a public records request from Voice of OC show a different story, with Rafiei repeatedly texting Irvine City Manager Oliver Chi, claiming it was on Khan’s behalf, months after the pair publicly parted ways. 

Rafiei was seemingly scheduling meetings for Khan late last year, according to text messages reviewed by Voice of OC.

“Tuesday won’t work for the Mayor,” Rafiei texted Chi in December. “Having her look in the following week.” 

To review a copy of the records, click here.

Rafiei has denied doing any additional work for Khan through her lawyer, Alelah Kamran, who said the texts with Chi and other references to Khan were “regular banter” between the two. 

“She stopped working for the Mayor and everyone else on 6/1/2022. She has never been involved in the operations of the city of Irvine at ANY time,” Kamran said in a statement last Monday. “She never followed up with the Mayor, never set a meeting, and never intended to do so.”

Khan did not return requests for comment on this story. 

In an interview, Chi said he thought that Rafiei was working on the mayor’s behalf, but that Khan has openly denied that claim. 

“When Melahat would contact me, she would indicate at times it was on behalf of the mayor,” Chi said. “The mayor subsequently said Melahat wasn’t doing any of that on her behalf.” 

Chi said he did not ask if Melahat was working for Khan. 

“I never had a direct conversation with Melahat as to what the relationship was, but all the interactions indicated she was working with Farrah.”

Melahat Rafiei. Credit: GAGE SKIDMORE, Flickr

Before her arrest, Rafiei was one of the most well-connected political consultants in Orange County, and Khan was one of her biggest customers over her career, according to campaign finance disclosures.  

[Read: Democratic Consultant Who Admitted Trying to Bribe Irvine Councilmembers Worked All Over Orange County]

Khan has not disclosed any payments to Rafiei after news of her involvement in the investigation came out last May. 

The Irvine mayor was one of the only elected officials to support Rafiei at the time, but quickly backpedaled after complaints from residents. 

“I also want to be unequivocal in my support for my friend and advisor, Melahat Rafiei,” Khan wrote in a social media post on May 19, a week before she distanced herself. “I stand with her, and believe our justice system will do its job and clear her name.”

[Read: Irvine Mayor Distances Herself From Former Top Democratic Party Official Involved in FBI Probe]

But Rafiei is still moving through the justice system after she signed a plea agreement to attempted wire fraud in January, and she also admitted to the attempted bribery of two Irvine City Councilmembers in 2018. 

Last week, Rafiei formally pleaded guilty in federal court – she could face up to 20 years in federal prison.

[Read: OC Democratic Power Broker Admits To Attempted Bribery of Irvine Councilmembers and Attempted Wire Fraud]

When asked about what led to the shift in her statements, Khan said she still considered her a friend and hoped that “justice will be served.” 

“I don’t have any contact with her,” Khan said in an interview last May. 

After Rafiei signed a plea deal in January, Khan again denied the allegations that Rafiei continued to be a presence at city hall on the mayor’s behalf from the council dais. 

“I too let her go as my consultant,” Khan said at the council’s Jan. 24 meeting. “If she has had communication with staff, it has been outside my work here.” 

But newly discovered text messages between Rafiei and City Manager Chi have brought up new questions over what exactly Rafiei’s role in Khan’s circle was during the months between when they claimed to part ways and Rafiei signed the plea agreement.

The texts, which stretch from Sept. 2022 to Jan. 2023, show that Rafiei was regularly speaking to Chi about policy and Khan’s campaign. 

The two met up at R&D Kitchen in Newport Beach on Sept. 21, a spot selected after Rafiei said they should “avoid Irvine.” 

The next day, Rafiei texted Chi.   

“Good seeing you yesterday!” Rafiei wrote. “Also I confirmed that Katie Porter and Cottie have both endorsed Farrah. They may not like her but they need her more than she needs them.” 

“That’s great news about the Farrah endorsements!!!” Chi replied. “If I hear that they didn’t from anyone else, I’ll set them at straight!” 

Exactly a month later, they spoke again on Oct. 22, although it’s unclear what the text  conversation was about.

“Good talk with Farrah re Tuesday,” Rafiei said. 

“Awesome! Let me know how I can help moving ahead!!!” Chi said. “Appreciate you Mel!” 

While it’s unclear from the texts what the two were discussing, the council’s Tuesday meeting three days later included votes on a hotel worker’s protection ordinance and Chi’s performance review. 

[Read: Irvine Boosts Hotel Housekeeper Protections Following Safety Concerns From Workers]

The two continued to talk again over the ensuing months, with Rafiei sending a thread from a local Twitter user that showed an email chain between Khan and Rafiei from that October that was received via a public records request.  

While they didn’t directly discuss the thread through text, Chi confirmed to Voice of OC there were multiple times that Rafiei reached out to talk about records the city released. 

“Melahat did connect with me on a couple different occasions I can recall on various record releases or issues related to … the mayor,” Chi said. “It appeared at the time she was asking after discussing the issue with Farrah, but Farrah has said she didn’t have any formal relationship with Melahat.” 

Their next text messages came in December 2022. 

It’s unclear what they spoke about aside from arranging a call. 

The last time the two spoke through text messages came on Jan. 19, the day it was announced Rafiei accepted a plea deal, according to records.

After that call, Rafiei texted Chi a list of all Irvine officials she’d worked with over the last 15 years, including Khan, Councilmembers Tammy Kim and Larry Agran, and former Mayors Sukhee Kang and Beth Krom. 

It’s unclear why Rafiei sent the list to Chi.

Both Agran and Kim have publicly denied having any ties with Rafiei since last May, while Kang and Krom have both been out of elected office for years. 

The rest of Rafiei’s texts, which went unanswered, were all regarding Voice of OC’s reporting on her plea agreement. 

“(Voice of OC) is blowing my phone and my attorneys. Let’s chat when you have a chance,” Rafiei said. 

She also notified Chi after Voice of OC reporters reached out to her attorney for comment on claims from former Councilwoman Melissa Fox that Rafiei tried to defraud her, not bribe her. 

[Read: Former Irvine Councilwoman Says Democratic Consultant Tried Defrauding Her, Not Bribing]

“Just a heads up,” Rafiei said, along with a copy of Fox’s statement. 

Chi also confirmed that he’s spoken to Rafiei since those January messages, and that he’s received occasional messages from her. 

“She’s sent me some email updates, she occasionally will ping me when something happens,” Chi said. “Melahat’s indicated she’s trying to reform and move on with her life.” 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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