Political consultant Melahat Rafiei agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of attempting to defraud a cannabis dispensary client associated with her firm, the U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday. She also admitted to agreeing to bribe two Irvine City Council members, according to court documents.
Rafiei, 45, of Anaheim, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of attempted wire fraud, federal prosecutors said.
Rafiei is the owner and founder of Progressive Solutions Consulting, a Long Beach-based political consulting firm, and served as executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party from 2007 to 2009.
She also formerly served as secretary of the California Democratic Party and was a state representative to the Democratic National Committee.
“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.”
According to her plea agreement, Rafiei said she agreed to give at least $225,000 in bribes to 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.
In April 2018, Rafiei offered to introduce an individual employed in the medical cannabis industry to an Irvine politician, only identified in court documents as “Elected Official 1,” said prosecutors.
The following month, Rafiei met with that unnamed elected official to discuss introducing an ordinance that would legalize retail medical cannabis and ultimately benefit her client’s business, the plea agreement says.
Rafiei says, in the plea agreement, that she and the elected official told the client and his business partner they planned to use a separate member of the Irvine City Council — identified in court documents as “Elected Official 2” — to introduce the ordinance.
Following this meeting, Rafiei said she asked the individual’s business partner to pay her between $350,000 and $400,000 in exchange for getting the cannabis ordinance introduced, according to the agreement.
The plea agreement says Rafiei told the business partner that the “bribe payments” would be disguised as attorney fees for legal services provided by her various public affairs and campaign management companies to circumvent the elected officials’ financial disclosure requirements. In June 2018, she says a contract was drafted between herself and the second elected official, which included a $25,000 retainer for “legal services,” according to the plea agreement.
Later, Rafiei told the individual’s business partner that Elected Official 2 had asked for approximately $25,000 and Elected Official 1 had asked for $200,000, said prosecutors.
The plea agreement also alleges that in September and October 2019, Rafiei falsely told a commercial cannabis company owner that, in exchange for a payment of at least $300,000, she would work to pass a cannabis-related ordinance in Anaheim that would benefit that person’s business.
Rafiei also falsely told the victim that $200,000 of the $300,000 would go to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce when she intended to split the $200,000 equally between herself and an associate not affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce, prosecutors said.
Rafiei is expected to make her initial appearance in the United States District Court in Santa Ana on Feb. 6
This is a developing story.