Irvine‘s City Council discussion about political consultant Melahat Rafiei’s plea agreement ended in a stalemate.
Rafiei agreed last week to plead guilty to one felony count of attempted wire fraud, federal prosecutors said. In the agreement, she admitted to attempting to defraud a cannabis dispensary client associated with her firm but also said she agreed to bribe two former Irvince councilmembers.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, Councilmember Kathleen Treseder called for an independent investigation to Rafiei’s dealings with the council in 2018; however, the motion failed 2-3 with Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilmembers Larry Agran and Mike Carroll opposing it.
Carroll said the council had other important tasks to take up and proposed delaying an investigation; Agran said he was wary of independent investigations “particularly when there is an ongoing FBI investigation.”
Rafiei is a cooperating witness in the FBI’s investigation into a corruption scandal involving Irvine and Anaheim and is the owner and founder of Progressive Solutions Consulting, a Long Beach-based firm. She served as executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party from 2007 to 2009. She is also the former secretary of the California Democratic Party and was a state representative to the Democratic National Committee.
In the plea agreement released by the Justice Department, Rafiei said she agreed to give at least $225,000 in bribes to two Irvine councilmembers in 2018 in exchange for getting them to introduce and pass a city ordinance that would allow her clients to open a retail cannabis store in Irvine. The two councilmembers were not named in the court documents; no current councilmembers were serving at that time. No allegations against the two councilmembers were documented in the plea agreement.
OC Supervisor Don Wagner, who was the Irvine mayor in 2018, told the Register last week that he was not approached by Rafiei with a bribe. Former councilmember Christina Shea also said that she does not recollect meeting Rafiei, adding: “I am a very staunch anti-supporter of or anti-proponent of retail cannabis in our city.”
The other former councilmembers, Melissa Fox, Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott, could not be reached for comment. However, Fox tweeted yesterday that she supports “Treseder’s call for a full and complete investigation into Malahat Rafiei’s activities and influence in Irvine.”
Irvine only allows marijuana testing laboratories in industrial, medical and science districts. No other type of commercial cannabis business is permitted.
Rafiei is expected to make her initial appearance in the United States District Court in Santa Ana on Feb. 6.
In a written statement ahead of the DOJ announcement, Rafiei said, “It was never my intention to harm anyone.”
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