While the identities of two 2018 Irvine City Council Members involved in a federal corruption investigation have yet to be disclosed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation may still be looking for answers inside Irvine City Hall.
During the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 14, Irvine City Council member Dr. Kathleen Tresder announced that Irvine City Manager Oliver Chi had met with the agents from the FBI for a meeting at City Hall.
Treseder said the topic of discussion focused on the ongoing investigation into alleged corruption in Irvine.
“Last week, FBI agents did come to City Hall and they interviewed our city manager Oliver Chi, and asked him questions regarding the ongoing investigation into Irvine,” she said. “I really appreciate Mr. Chi answering the questions, as I’m sure anyone would once they are asked by the FBI. I want to point out briefly that Mr. Chi now has whistleblower protection under the law.”
In a text message with Irvine Weekly, Treseder said she was informed about this level of protection by general counsel, but was not aware if Chi would need to apply, or if this level of protection was automatically granted.
“My information from the General Counsel is that he qualifies for whistle-blower protection, because he is now a witness for the FBI,” she wrote.
Chi did not respond to Irvine Weekly’s request for comment on the matter.
Irvine Vice Mayor Tammy Kim said the news of Chi’s meeting with the FBI did not come as a surprise.
“He gave a briefing to all the council members,” Kim wrote in a text message to Irvine Weekly.
Specifically, the federal investigation involves a plea agreement signed by Melahat Rafiei, a former political consultant with deep connections to Irvine City Hall.
Rafiei worked as a paid political consultant for Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan and for Irvine Vice Mayor Tammy Kim.
The agreement, signed by Rafiei in January, is an admission of attempted wire fraud.
The FBI investigation confirmed that more than $200,000 were to be sent to two Irvine Council Members in return for favorable legislation for retail cannabis regulation in Irvine.
Irvine Weekly attempted to reach all five of the previously elected council officials in an effort to identify the unnamed members listed in the recent FBI plea agreement. Ultimately, only former Irvine Mayor Christina Shea spoke on the record.
Melissa Fox and Supervisor Don Wagner did not respond to requests for comment.
Former Council Member Jeff Lalloway is listed as an active attorney on the State Bar Association’s website. However, the phone number and website listed for his O.C. divorce law firm is no longer active.
Lynn Schott could not be reached regarding comment on the federal investigation.
In 2016, Schott ran for Congress in California District 46 falling short of winner Lou Correa. In documents filed with the Federal Elections Commission, Schott’s campaign brought in a total of $96,584 according to the campaign tracking website OpenSecrets.org.
After news of the investigation broke, the Irvine City Council opted not to perform an internal investigation regarding Rafiei’s connections to City Hall.
At a Jan. 24 special City Council meeting, Irvine Council Member Dr. Kathleen Treseder suggested that Irvine perform its own investigation into how far Rafiei’s conduct and influence merged into City Hall and the Orange County Power Authority.
Considering the implications of this plea agreement, Treseder said that this case sets an unfortunate precedent in Irvine, in that it is unclear how frequently vote purchasing occurred in Irvine.
“I want to look into these other cannabis items related to Melahat and other people that may have corrupted – and if so, we could go back and potentially undo them,” Treseder explained. “It’s entirely possible that every resident in the city could not have wanted a particular ordinance passed, but yet it still was passed because the votes were bought.”
The council voted 3-2 against an investigation.
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