Former Democratic Party leader who helped FBI investigate Anaheim agrees to plead guilty to wire fraud

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A California Democratic party leader at the center of a massive corruption investigation in Anaheim related to the proposed sale of Angel Stadium has agreed to plead guilty to attempted wire fraud, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

Melahat Rafiei, 45, formerly secretary of the California Democratic Party and a member of the Democratic National Committee, was a well-known political consultant in Orange County.

According to a plea deal filed Thursday in federal court, Rafiei told a commercial cannabis company owner in late 2019 that she would work to pass a marijuana-related ordinance in Anaheim that would benefit the company, in exchange for a payment of at least $300,000.

What she didn’t tell the client was that she was already working on an ordinance on behalf of other people.

Rafiei also told the client that she would give $200,000 of the payment to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and keep only $10,000 for her work. Instead, she planned to keep $100,000, the agreement said.

Under the agreement, Rafiei directed her client to pay the $300,000 through checks written to various entities. She planned to deposit the money into accounts she controlled and “transfer some of the money to others.”

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Rafiei has agreed to plead guilty to a single attempted wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. She is due to appear in federal court in Santa Ana next month.

In a statement her lawyer provided to the Times, Rafiei declined to discuss details of the plea deal.

“I will share my story in due course,” she said in the statement. “For now, I will move forward with dignity and humility to find peace and clarity in my life.”

The plea deal, she said, will “bring certainty, closure and a path forward.”

After Rafiei was arrested in 2019, she began assisting federal investigators. With her help, the FBI learned that Anaheim was controlled by a “small cadre of individuals,” including former mayor Harry Sidhu and Todd Ament, the former president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

The mayor was accused in May in an affidavit of a federal search warrant of disclosing confidential information to the Angels during the team’s negotiations with the city over the sale of Angel Stadium for $320 million in hopes of securing a million-dollar campaign donation. dollars to receive. The affidavit also alleged that Sidhu obstructed an Orange County grand jury investigation into the deal. Sidhu has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.

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The discovery shocked the Anaheim political establishment, led to Sidhu’s resignation and led to criminal charges against Ament. The FBI charged Ament with conspiring with an unnamed political consultant to funnel money from the Chamber of Commerce into Ament’s personal bank accounts by laundering it through the consultant’s public relations firm.

Ament agreed to plead guilty in June to filing a false tax return, lying to a mortgage lender and two counts of fraud.

The scandal prompted the Anaheim City Council to void the sale of the stadium.

Rafiei did not plead bribery, but her agreement with prosecutors also outlines a bribery plan.

Prosecutors said in the agreement that Rafiei admitted to bribing two Irvine councilors in 2018 in exchange for their agreement to introduce and pass an ordinance allowing its customers to open a cannabis store in the city.

It is not clear whether the bribes were ultimately accepted by the councillors, who are not named in court documents.

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In May 2018, Rafiei met with a medical cannabis professional, the person’s business partner and an Irvine council member. They discussed introducing an ordinance that would legalize the sale of medical cannabis in the city, according to the plea deal.

The council member told them they planned to use a separate member of the city council to introduce the proposed law, the agreement said.

Unbeknownst to Rafiei, the business owner and partner were acting as informants for the FBI.

After the meeting, Rafiei asked the owner of the cannabis company to pay her between $350,000 and $400,000 for brokering the ordinance.

She told them that the first council member they met had asked for $200,000 and the second, who was said to introduce the ordinance, was demanding about $25,000, according to the plea deal.

To hide the bribe and circumvent disclosure requirements, Rafiei planned to make agreements with the politicians for “legal services,” prosecutors wrote in the plea deal.

According to the agreement, Rafiei told the cannabis professional that this would circumvent disclosure requirements for elected officials because legal customers were not required to be identified.

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