Cordoba Corp. — the politically connected company that was awarded a controversial streetcar planning contract in Santa Ana — hired a project manager imprisoned for nearly a year on corruption charges, according to a story this week in the Los Angeles Times.
Louis M. Cruz pleaded guilty in 2003 to delivering $130,000 in bribes to public school and community college officials in Texas, the Times reported. In 2008, Cordoba Corp. hired him.
As an employee of Cordoba, Cruz helped manage major construction programs at Long Beach City College and the Los Angeles Community College District, according to the Times.
The Santa Ana City Council awarded a $4.8-million contract to the same company in 2009, despite protest from the city's then Public Works Director James Ross, who has since retired, according to the Orange County Register.
Of the three companies that bid for the contract, Cordoba Corp. ranked last in a review by the city's evaluation committee. Ross specifically objected to a City Council committee, which included Mayor Miguel Pulido, stepping in to make its own selection after Cordoba Corp. was rated last by city officials, the Register reported.
The company and its president, George Pla, has long-held ties with Pulido, including early support of Pulido's political campaigns.
Councilman Carlos Bustamante served with Pla on the board of directors of the failed Santa Ana Business Bank and received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Cordoba during Bustamante's bid for county supervisor. The company also gave Benavides at least $249 for his election campaign, the Register reported.
From the Times story:
The prosecutor who handled the case expressed astonishment that Cruz was able to find work managing public construction in California.
"After he'd been to prison? That's incredible," said Cliff Herberg, first assistant district attorney in Bexar County, Texas. "Didn't they wonder where he was for two years?"
[Long Beach City College] officials said [Cruz] was relieved of his duties at the campus in October because of complaints that he was causing delays in completing projects. Officials said they did not learn about his Texas criminal record until later.
Apparently, Cordoba officials did not vet Cruz before they hired him. The Times story continues:
After he was released from prison and had fulfilled the terms of his probation, Cruz went to California. Maria Mehranian, managing partner of Cordoba Corp., said in an email that the company was unaware of Cruz's "background in Texas" when it hired him in 2008.
At Long Beach City College, Cruz oversaw construction of a new fitness center, an academic building and other projects.
College Vice President Ann-Marie Gabel said campus officials asked Cordoba to remove Cruz last October because "it appeared to us he couldn't handle the workload."
Cruz left the college but continued to work for Cordoba until shortly after a Feb. 27 article in the Los Angeles Times mentioned his criminal record. Within days, his photo and biography were pulled from Cordoba's website. Cordoba told the college that Cruz's last day with the company was March 1, a college spokeswoman said.
Clarification: "A previous version of this post used information from the Orange County Register that Councilman David Benavides was on the City Council committee that recommended Cordoba Corp. for the streetcar contract. Benavides was absent for the committee meeting in which Cordoba was chosen to be recommended for the contract. However, he did vote for the contract when it come before Council.
— ADAM ELMAHREK