Melahat Plea Deal: Squeeze Out some OC History! (in progress)

‘Member how she wore a wire due to her sense of patriotism?

If anyone could manage to sign a plea deal that did not require full cooperation in government investigations as a condition for staying out of prison, it would be Melahat Rafiei, who Voice of OC reported yesterday has signed a plea deal admitting a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666, a federal law against bribery or theft concerning a program receiving federal funds. But I don’t think that Melahat — master of the less-than-half truth and smiling backstabbing double-dealer that she is — will have been able to pull off that feat. VOC quotes her lawyer as saying that the plea deal has no conditions as yet, and that conditions would be added at the time of Mehalat’s as-yet-unscheduled sentencing.

Great! That means that we’re in the middle of bargaining time! Let’s put out our own wish list!

Here’s what I think that the Feds should want from her: Give OC back its hidden history!

I don’t think anyone has been more patched-in behind the scenes than Melahat. Not Scott Baugh, who mostly had to keep various people happy; not Curt Pringle, whose influence was geographically limited; not all of the Democratic Party Chairs she served under (or, perhaps more accurately, over) combined. No one knows more about where the bodies are buried. Give her a maximum sentence, but also immunity for new information leading to convictions in other matters with which she had been involved.

When Melahat was arrested — not booked, as she and her “spokesperson” (and who else without office or industry has a spokeperson?) maintained — she came out willing to deal the moment she was touched. Why? Out of patriotic fervor, she said: because she really did want to make the world a better place! She was lying about that, no doubt, but let’s take her at her word: make her make Orange County (as well as Long Beach) a better place by tearing the lid off of its prior corruption.

What would I like to know about? Here’s a partial list, that will no doubt grow:

What Really Happened in the Santa Ana Pot Shop Lottery?


Before Melahat was an influential confidante of DPOC Chairs Henry Vandermeir, Fran Sdao, and Ada Briceno — with Henry being the only one who may have stood up to her, thinking himself her equal — she was the right-hand-woman of longtime DPOC Chair Frank Barbaro, now deceased. Frank was a shrewd lawyer and an amiably passionate pothead with an eye out for money-making propositions. Frank had long agitated for cannabis legalization — both medical and recreational — which is not a problem. What was a problem was that when Santa Ana had its lottery to grant its first dispensary licenses, Melahat acted on Frank’s behalf — and who knows who else Frank might have been fronting for — and, word was at the time, garnered the lion’s share of the licenses.

Our country is rife with stories of corruption in the allocation of the lucrative right to sell marijuana legally — this was in the news last year when New York granted preference to previous convicted marijuana dealers, overwhelmingly from the Black community, to receive these rights — but few are as bold as what allegedly happened in Santa Ana , which was run at this time as a virtual dictatorship under longtime Mayor Miguel Pulido (left).

I’ve never been able to get information about what happened — other than general agreement, always from people saying that they were speaking secondhand, that it did take place. My guess has been that Pulido would have had what records existed disposed of at the time — but Melahat is still around and would presumably have been in on planning and execution. A lot of injustice — some of it racial — would have attended any fixing of that lottery; Melahat should be impelled to testify as to the truth to the full extent she knows it. (Isn’t this charge about something about municipal cannabis policy? Santa Ana would have been where she got, or worked through, any ideas!) Statutes of limitation may not be expired (or may have been tolled — and it’s a great chance to get the now defanged Pulido on the record.

ANAHEIM – coming!

(Reading the Plea Agreement, it’s like an “OK, you got me, I’m a snitch now! Woo-hoo! Wire me up!”)

IRVINE – coming!

But for a refresher: OCPA-Melahat-Gate: the Treseder Letter and a Probolsky tale.

And for an update: Consultant’s Controversial Plea Deal Spurs Call For Irvine Probe, puts Spotlight on Mayor.


What Party or Government Contact Helped Melahat Schedule Two DNC Nominating Executive Board Meetings in Her Home Turf?

This is both circumstantial and “inside baseball,” but it’s strong evidence that Melahat’s political clout has gone well beyond Orange County and Long Beach itself. Melahat ran for Democratic National Committee — the national counterpart to the Democratic State Central Committee and the Democratic Party of Orange County — at least twice, on the platform of being the first “red county” DNC member in at least some time. California’s DNC members are nominated at Executive Board Meetings of the DSCC (the gathering of delegates to the State Party.) One problem with these Board meetings (at least outside of Covid) is that voting has had to take place in person — and California is a big state. Northern Californians will be less likely to travel to Southern California meetings and vice-versa — and Central Californians (and those in the far north and east) even more so.

Bear in mind that these are not the big State Conventions that make the news. Each year, DCP holds both the state convention and two or three Executive Committee meetings. Generally, cities and regions compete most over who has gets the State Convention. But Melahat cared when these humbler meetings that nominated DNC members too place — so that she could get disproportionate numbers of her own supporters to show up and support her.

In 2012 or so, I was still on good terms with CDP District Director John Smith and former Democrats of North Orange County leader Monika Broome. Smith held the same elected party position that Florice Hoffman has long held in central Orange County. They had two overriding priorities regarding who to support for party advancement: Melahat and Henry Vandermeir, who they wanted to become party chair. Smith was going to miss the Executive Board meeting and so asked me to be his designated proxy and cast his votes for on his behalf. His instructions were that I had to agree to vote for Melahat and Henry, and then I could vote for whoever else I wanted. (Thus did the record show that crusty labor centrist John Smith voted for Barbara Lee for DNC. Maybe Maxine Waters too. So I know from personal experience who the local party leaders’ priorities were that year.

That meeting took place in Anaheim. Melahat and Henry were the top female and vote-getters outside of the incumbents, who ran as a slate. That marked Melahat, at least, as an up-and-comer who just had to wait for a resignation. (Henry seemed to have less interest once he left the DPOC Chair position.)

Coincidence? One? cycle later, Melahat had set up her “Progressive Solutions” campaign business in Long Beach, which became her main official power center. That year, Melahat won — as did Ada Briceño, whom Melahat was advising. (A third candidate, Deborah Cunningham Skurnick, also ran and lost. Several South County DPOC women were sad about it.)

Of course, Melahat’s drive to “go national” derailed after her “not an arrest!” arrest in Anaheim, in which she immediately and covertly flipped on those around her that might get her leniency. That’s not the point here. The point is not simply that she was smarter than pretty much anyone else in state politics — landing these particular meetings where they could help her (specifically her) most was an “Obama destroying Hillary on Super Tuesday in 2008 because he had read the delegate allocation process rules” level move — but that, despite her being in a red county not well-connected to legislative and electoral power, she was incredibly well-connected to some people who make it rain for he.

I don’t think that she’s the only person who understood the advantage of a home-court advantage when it came to DNC elections, but other than anyone she carried along with her (like Ada), she was the only one who could manage to take advantage of it. Who was she working with — flattering, arm-twisting … or more? — to get onto the DNC, and open up huge new frontiers for her? Maybe this doesn’t belong in a plea deal — but the nature and full extent of her influence within the California Democratic Party remains for some investigator to explore. This just seems like a good place to mention it! Melahat newsletter 2016

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)