Former Councilmember Melissa Fox says she’s been cooperating with the FBI regarding her dealings with Melahat Rafiei, a political consultant who recently told investigators that she tried to bribe former city officials.
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 Irvine councilmembers in 2018.
In a written statement provided to the Register Wednesday, Jan. 25, Fox, who was a councilmember from 2016 to 2020, said she met with Rafiei and her client who owned a cannabis business in Irvine in 2018. The meeting, she said, “did not stand out as different from any other meeting of that type,” noting she would “often” meet with local business owners.
Fox said Rafiei wanted to engage her services as a lawyer prior to that meeting. While Fox provided a quote for legal services, she said Rafiei never hired her.
Melahat Rafiei told the FBI she tried to bribe two former Irvine councilmembers in 2018. She’s seen here arriving for the Democratic presidential debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)
Fox said she later spoke with the FBI about Rafiei.
“From that point on, I have been working with the FBI in this matter,” Fox said, saying the two women have been “superficially friendly over these years.”
Fox said she supported current Councilmember Kathleen Treseder’s call for an independent investigation into Rafiei’s activities in Irvine.
However, a city probe was rejected by most of the council on Tuesday, Jan. 24, in a 2-3 vote, with Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilmembers Larry Agran and Mike Carroll opposing an independent investigation.
The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment on Fox’s statement.
Rafiei’s lawyer, Alaleh Kamran, said: “To the extent that Ms. Fox is stating any facts that (are) within her personal knowledge, I would defer to her. I would highly caution against the use of any hearsay statements without any corroborating facts or documents.”
In the plea agreement released by the Justice Department last week, 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 plea agreement, nor were any allegations against any councilmembers documented in the agreement. No current councilmembers were serving at that time.
Irvine only allows marijuana testing laboratories in industrial, medical and science districts. No other type of commercial cannabis business is permitted.
OC Supervisor Don Wagner and former Councilmember Christina Shea, who both served on the council in 2018, said they were not approached by Rafiei or offered a bribe. The other councilmembers, Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott, could not be reached for comment.
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During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Agran said he was wary of an independent probe “particularly when there is an ongoing FBI investigation.”
Rafiei is a cooperating witness in the FBI’s investigation into an alleged corruption scandal involving Irvine and Anaheim.
She is the owner and founder of Progressive Solutions Consulting, a Long Beach-based firm, and 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.
“My attorney has advised me to not discuss the facts of the case pending the final resolution of the matter. I will share my story in due time,” Rafiei previously said.
She is expected to make her initial appearance in the United States District Court in Santa Ana on Feb. 6.