Ex-Director of Orange County Democratic Party Pleads Guilty to Attempted Fraud and Bribery Scheme

Ex-Director of Orange County Democratic Party Pleads Guilty to Attempted Fraud and Bribery Scheme
A file photograph of a judge's gavel. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/Getty Images)
City News Service

LOS ANGELES—A former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County pleaded guilty April 14 to a felony charge for attempting to defraud one of her political consultancy firm's clients.

Melahat Rafiei, 45, of Anaheim, entered her plea to attempted wire fraud in Los Angeles federal court. Sentencing was set for Oct. 13, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Rafiei, the principal and founder of Progressive Solutions Consulting, a Long Beach-based political consulting firm, also admitted that she agreed to bribe two members of the Irvine City Council—both on cannabis-related matters, court papers show.

She was a longtime leader in Orange County's Democratic Party and formerly served as secretary of the California Democratic Party and state representative to the Democratic National Committee.

According to her plea agreement, from April to June 2018, Rafiei agreed to give at least $225,000 in bribes to Irvine City Council members 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 person to an Irvine politician, who was not identified in court papers, prosecutors said.

The next month, Rafiei met with the unnamed elected official to discuss introducing an ordinance in Irvine that would legalize retail medical cannabis and ultimately benefit the individual's business, court papers state.

Following the meeting, Rafiei asked the person's business partner to pay her between $350,000 and $400,000 in exchange for getting the cannabis ordinance introduced, according to her plea agreement.

In September and October of 2019, Rafiei falsely represented to 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 and be specifically tailored for the company owner's business, her plea agreement says.

However, Rafiei already had been working on such an ordinance for other paying clients, court papers show.

Rafiei then falsely represented to the victim that she would keep only $10,000 of the payment in exchange for her purported work. In fact, Rafiei intended to keep $100,000 of the payment, prosecutors said.

Rafiei faces a possible sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, prosecutors noted.