WEST HOLLYWOOD—The former campaign consultant for the West Hollywood mayor entered a plea deal for one felony count of attempted wire fraud from federal officers on Wednesday, January 18.
Melahat Rafiei, 45, of Anaheim, agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge for attempting to defraud one of her political consultancy firm’s clients. She admitted in court documents that she agreed to bribe two members of the Irvine City Council – both on cannabis-related matters. She is expected to make her initial appearance in United States District Court in Santa Ana on February 6.
During an FBI probe into a massive corruption scandal involving Anaheim and Irvine, she became a cooperating witness after she was arrested in 2019. Rafiei disputed that she was arrested and claimed she cooperated voluntarily.
“If she had been arrested, she would have been photographed, she would have been fingerprinted – none of that happened. No Miranda rights were read to her. She voluntarily answered their questions,” said her spokesperson Ann Solomon in May 2022. Rafiei said she’s hoping the judge will take into consideration the role she played in uncovering broader scandals.
Rafiei was once the executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party and worked as a consultant on several political campaigns including West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne’s race for City Council in 2020. Rafiei was paid more than $30,000 for her work helping get Shyne elected.
From April to June 2018, Rafiei agreed to give at least $225,000 in bribes to Irvine City Councilmembers in exchange for their introducing and passing a city ordinance that would allow Rafiei’s clients to open a retail cannabis store in Irvine. In April 2018, Rafiei presented a business opportunity to an individual who was then employed in the medical cannabis industry and offered to introduce the individual to an Irvine politician, identified in court documents as “Elected Official 1.”
She met with Elected Official 1 to discuss introducing an ordinance in Irvine that would legalize retail medical cannabis and ultimately benefit the individual’s business. During the meeting, Rafiei and Elected Official 1 told the individual and his business partner that 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 the meeting in May 2018, Rafiei asked the individual’s business partner to pay her between $350,000 and $400,000 in exchange for getting the cannabis ordinance introduced.
“I can only hope that, given my contributions and achievements, my life and legacy will not be defined by this painful chapter, and that in time, my life will evolve well beyond this moment,” Rafiei wrote in a statement.