Federal investigators interviewed Irvine City Manager Oliver Chi last week.
“The FBI reached out to me, and they had some questions for me regarding an ongoing series of issues they’re looking into that relate to Irvine,” Chi said on Wednesday, March 15.
Chi, who has served as the city manager since 2021, said he did not want to discuss the details of the conversation with investigators at this time. Chi would not also confirm if other employees of the city were also interviewed.
Irvine has gotten increased attention of late. In January, the Justice Department released a plea deal that said political consultant Melahat Rafiei attempted to defraud a cannabis dispensary client associated with her firm. Rafiei also admitted to agreeing to bribe two Irvine City Council members, according to court documents.
Rafiei said she agreed to give at least $225,000 in bribes to a pair of 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, according to the plea agreement. The two councilmembers were not named in the court documents, and no current councilmembers were serving at that time. No allegations against the two councilmembers were documented in the plea agreement.
Former Councilmember Melissa Fox, who served in 2018, previously said she’s been cooperating with the FBI regarding her dealings with Rafiei. Former Councilmembers Christina Shea and Don Wagner, who also served during the time period, both said they had not been approached by Rafiei or offered a bribe.
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, March 14, Councilmember Kathleen Treseder said the FBI visited City Hall last week as part of an ongoing investigation.
Chi has not filed for “whistleblower protection” status as of Wednesday morning, he said in an interview.
“I serve at the pleasure of the council,” Chi said.
The federal Whistleblower Protection Act was established to protect employees from retaliation from an employer for speaking out against company practices, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Employees can apply for whistleblower protection status a variety of ways, according to the Department of Labor, including in person, over the phone, online or through fax, email or regular mail.
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