To understand how to combat government fraud, we must first understand the psychology and actions of fraudsters and the horrific ways in which self-serving social servants impact, directly and indirectly, so many lives. My blog, “Where Women Govern” at Psychology Today, examines the George Santos Effect
For the most part, women participate less in corruption, but Melahat Rafiei of Anaheim, California, the former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County, has confessed to corruption that makes her the exception to the rule. This month I was twice featured in The Southern California Record, the Los Angeles area Legal Journal. Here’s what journalist Juliette Fairley wrote most recently:
OC Democratic Party official to face felony charge, attempted wire fraud on Feb. 6
Debbie Peterson is no stranger to corruption in local government as she was mayor of Grover Beach in San Luis Obispo for two years and wrote a book about it called The Happiest Corruption: Sleaze, Lies, & Suicide in a California Beach Town. But still, she was surprised to learn of the political corruption that occurred in Orange County.
“As politicians get power, the newer assessments of the psychology of it are that they think they’re above the law, and they think that they won’t get caught,” she said. “They’re overconfident.” Peterson was reacting to the news that Melahat Rafiei, 45, of Anaheim, the former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County, admitted in court documents that she allegedly attempted to defraud one of her political consultancy firm’s clients. “Her information and plea agreement were filed on January 19, 2023,” said Ciaran McEvoy, public information officer with the Department of Justice. “She has not yet entered a guilty plea in this case.” Rafiei allegedly 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, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
In a letter posted on her Facebook page in May 2022, Rafiei denied the allegations and resigned from the Democratic Party: “Those reports are largely speculative and often flat-out wrong. I have never attempted to improperly influence any elected official and I am certain the work I undertook to root out corruption was in the best interest of the people of this state and the Democratic Party,” Rafiei said.
It is further alleged that 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 victim’s business. Rafiei, however, had reportedly already been working on such an ordinance for other paying clients. Rafiei is the principal and founder of a Long Beach-based political consulting firm called Progressive Solutions Consulting and formerly served as secretary of the California Democratic Party and state representative to the Democratic National Committee. “What a local level political consultant will be doing is running people’s campaigns and manipulating public opinion in favor of their candidates, and they do marketing for their candidates,” Peterson said in an interview. “Obviously, this woman is well connected, and so people are going to be afraid [to report corruption].”
Rafiei, who is accused of one count of attempted wire fraud and a felony charge, faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. She is expected to make her initial appearance in Santa Ana U.S. District Court on February 6. “The moral of the story for the crook is don’t do it because you’re going to get caught and the moral of the story for the public is that we have to pay attention and do everything in our power to elect people who are not corruptible,” Peterson added.