A former Orange County Republican Party operative who swindled $1.25 million pleaded guilty this week in an Arizona federal court to bank fraud, tax evasion, wire fraud and money laundering, and now faces a maximum eight-year prison sentence plus a minimum forfeiture of $650,000.
You saw Frances Akhavi’s wild tale on these pages last July after she signed a guilty plea with federal prosecutors in hopes of winning reduced punishment, but wrote the word for innocent in Farsi next to her signature, a stunt that didn’t amuse U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa in Phoenix.
The judge rejected the deal and ordered Akhavi to face trial, a move Irvine City Council member Lynn Schott hailed at the time to the Weekly as an opportunity for her close friend to prove her innocence.
“She has not yet had her day in court,” said Schott, who predicted Akhavi’s exoneration.
But the swindler agreed for a second time on Monday that she’d operated “a scheme to defraud” Wells Fargo Bank and eight individuals by telling a series a lies that won her access to other peoples’ credit cards and financial accounts.
“I convinced some of the victims to grant me access to their credit cards by telling them I would make the required payments,” Akhavi stated in the guilty plea. “I convinced them that by allowing me to use their credit cards I could boost their credit scores. This would allow them to qualify for a mortgage or loans. I knew this was false. I had no other sources of legitimate income other than the money I convinced the victims to give to me. I, therefore, could not make the required monthly payments on the credit cards.”
She agreed to pay restitution of $1,248,535.
Federal prosecutors Kevin M. Rapp and Mark Kokanovich had given the defendant a deadline of yesterday to accept the deal or face a March 6 trial where Schott, who’d called Akhavi a “national treasure,” was expected to serve as her primary character witness.
Sentencing is scheduled to occur within a month.
A decade ago, Akhavi–who has been chronically unemployed–quickly made a name for herself in Irvine Republican circles by spending lavishly on political events and attempting to wrestle control of the county party committee from then chairman Scott Baugh before moving to Arizona.
She impressed her victims by showing them pictures of herself standing with various state and national political figures, who were unaware of her criminal enterprises.