Melahat Rafiei, who was a cooperating witness for an FBI probe into a massive corruption scandal involving Anaheim and Irvine, said Wednesday evening that she’s agreed to accept a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office on charges of attempted wire fraud.
She could face time in prison, though she said she’s hoping the judge will take into consideration the role she played in uncovering those broader scandals.
“I have made this painful choice by weighing my options, the most important of which was the care and custody of my son… ” Rafiei said in a statement provided to the Register. “I know this option will bring certainty, closure and a path forward.”
Rafiei was secretary for the California Democratic Party, was helping run campaigns for a number of elected officials and was a prominent consultant for the local cannabis industry until May of last year. That’s when news broke that she’d been arrested in 2019 on charges of “theft or bribery” involving federal funds related to a cannabis scheme, and that she later had been assisting the FBI with a related investigation.
That probe led to federal charges against former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament, and the resignation of then Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu. At that time, the Anaheim City Council voided a $320 million deal to sell Angel Stadium to a business partnership created by the team’s owner Arte Moreno, as the release of wiretap transcripts appeared to support allegations of a self-described “cabal” of business and political leaders that had been exerting “significant influence” over how the city was run.
As for Rafiei, the FBI states that she had promised two executives at a local cannabis company that she could help get a favorable cannabis ordinance passed in Irvine if they gave her money to bribe two council members. She later denied those allegations, saying in a statement that she “never attempted to improperly influence any elected official.” Those charges were dismissed without prejudice, which meant they could always be filed again later.
After that arrest, Rafiei began cooperating with the FBI to bring them information about possible corruption in Anaheim. She says she accepted a request to cooperate, wearing a wire and delivering evidence that the FBI used to charge Ament and to raise concerns about Sidhu’s actions.
The FBI previously said that they did not believe Rafiei was being fully honest with them, even while she was acting as a witness.
Federal authorities couldn’t immediately be reached Wednesday evening for comment on Rafiei’s plea deal.
But her attorney, Alaleh Kamran, said via email that Rafiei’s plea is not contingent on any conditions and that the government “has made no assurances other than what is included in the plea agreement, which will not be filed under seal.”
Wire fraud can carry a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison, or 30 if the victim is a federally insured bank or other financial institution.
“The hope is that the court will take her distinguished career and lack of criminal history into consideration when sentencing her,” Kamran said.
On advice of her attorney, Rafiei said she can’t discuss facts of the case more until it’s fully resolved.
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“I will share my story in due time,” she said. “For now, I will proceed with dignity, humility towards finding peace and clarity in my life.”
Rafiei, who came to the United States as refugee from Iran, said she remains proud of what she accomplished, though she fears all she’s done to this point “may be overshadowed by this unfortunate chapter.”
No date has been set for the sentencing, Kamran said.
Editor Andre Mouchard contributed to this report.