Santa Ana Will Likely Investigate Mayor’s Real Estate Swap

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Inquiries by Santa Ana City Attorney Sonia Carvalho and the City Council’s ethics subcommittee are two likely responses to revelations that Miguel Pulido profited from a property swap with a city contractor, according to council members and others close to City Hall.

Last week, Voice of OC reported that in 2010 Rupen James Akoubian, president of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, sold a Westminster home to the Pulido family for $230,000 less than fair market value. Then, in 2012, Pulido sold the home at a $197,000 profit.

During the nearly two years between those transactions, Pulido voted for two separate contracts for NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, including a three-year contract in 2011 worth $1.35 million that made the Santa Ana-based NAPA store the city’s exclusive auto parts provider.

Good-government experts questioned whether the home represented an illegal gift to the mayor, and one went so far as to raise the possibility that it was a bribe.

Councilman Roman Reyna said such suspicious business dealings have “ripple effects” that hurt the city and that either he or one of his colleagues would likely place the item on the council’s ethics subcommittee agenda.

“If you [must] pay to play, then I don’t want to be in this city. … That could be the perception that some of our business people see,” Reyna said. “The ramifications are by no means no small thing.”

Meanwhile, local blogger Art Pedroza, an ally of the mayor who has been paid by Pulido’s reelection campaign, posted what he claimed was a response from Pulido to the Voice of OC article.

Pedroza also declared in a statement Monday that Carvalho is investigating the matter and that he expects the mayor to be “cleared of any wrongdoing”. Carvalho did not return a reporter’s call seeking comment, and council members contacted for this article said they had not been notified of an investigation.

Pulido has not returned a reporter’s calls, emails and text messages seeking comment, but according to Pedroza, the mayor acknowledged that he shouldn’t have voted on the 2011 contract for NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, which passed the council unanimously as a consent item.

In addition to calling on the city attorney to investigate, council members could also file a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez said she favors asking the city attorney look into the matter, an action that would have to take place at a City Council meeting. The next council meeting is Monday night, but any agendized discussion of the matter will have to wait, because the agenda for that meeting is already set.

Despite their concern over the transactions, it’s clear that Pulido’s colleagues are weighing their options carefully.

Councilman David Benavides said that a council-driven investigation or report to the FPPC would look too political. He said that the demand for such action would have to come from residents “in order for it to carry weight.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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