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Ex-Director of Dem Party pleads guilty to attempted wire fraud

By Jimmy Adeel
|
May 7, 2023

Melahat Rafiei, a former top official of the Democratic Party of Orange County, California, pleaded guilty last month to charges of attempting to defraud one of her political consultancy firm's clients.

Rafiei, 45, had signed a plea agreement in January, and her sentencing is scheduled for October 13.

Background on Melahat Rafiei

Rafiei held various positions within the Democrat Party, including state representative for the Democratic National Committee and secretary for the California Democrat Party.

She was also on the Orange County Fair Board. Rafiei stepped down from these positions in May of last year amid a corruption investigation surrounding the proposed sale of Angel Stadium land in Anaheim.

During the time of her involvement in the bribery scheme, she ran a Long Beach political consulting firm called Progressive Solutions Consulting.

The Wire Fraud Scheme

While Rafiei did not plead to bribery charges, federal prosecutors acknowledged and outlined a scheme in Irvine in her plea agreement.

The agreement reveals that between September and October 2019, Rafiei falsely represented to a client that she would work on a cannabis-related ordinance in Anaheim tailored explicitly to the client's business for a payment of at least $300,000.

Rafiei was already working on such an ordinance for other clients.

Rafiei also lied about how much of the payment she would keep. She initially claimed to retain only $10,000 but intended to pocket $100,000.

Furthermore, she falsely stated that $200,000 of the $300,000 would go to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

However, she planned to split the $200,000 between herself and an unrelated associate.

The payments were to be made by checks to various entities, with Rafiei intending to deposit the money into accounts she controlled and transmit a portion of the funds to others.

Rafiei's Cooperation in the Anaheim Probe

Rafiei agreed to plead guilty to the count of wire fraud, but that charge is unrelated to the Anaheim probe. It has been reported that she assisted with the investigation after her arrest in 2019.

According to her plea agreement, Rafiei agreed to pay at least $225,000 in bribes to the two unidentified Irvine City Council members.

Payments were disguised as attorney's fees for legal services provided to her public affairs and campaign management companies in order to avoid disclosure requirements.

Potential Sentence

Rafiei faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for the attempted wire fraud conviction, although the actual sentence is likely to be significantly lower.

As part of her plea deal, the prosecution agreed to recommend a sentence at the low end of the guidelines, which could amount to approximately 21 months.