Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido has amended his public statements of economic interest to acknowledge ownership of a Westminster house that he and other members of his family purchased from a city contractor for $230,000 less than fair market value.
Pulido listed his interest in the house on amendments to his 2010, 2011 and 2012 filings, known as Form 700s. His share of the home amounted to a fair market value of between $10,000 and $100,000, the amendments show.
Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said the new filings indicate that Pulido's co-ownership of the house likely amounted to an illegal gift under the state's Political Reform Act.
“It sounds like there should have been some disclosure of some gift,” said Stern, who is a co-author of the law. He added that determining whether the gift went over the state limit is “a littler harder to say” but probable, given the size of the mayor’s interest in the home.
Last month, Voice of OC reported that in 2010, the Pulido family traded a vacant lot for the house, which was owned by Rupen James Akoubian, president of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts. At the time of the property swap, the Orange County assessor’s office appraised the fair market value of the lot at $200,000, and the house at $430,000.
Then in 2012, the mayor’s family transferred the home solely into his name, and Pulido sold the home for $397,000, 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, no-bid contract in 2011 worth $1.35 million that made the Santa Ana-based NAPA store the city’s exclusive auto parts provider.
Tracy Westen, a colleague of Stern's at the Center for Governmental Studies, said the transaction could be a bribe.
Akoubian had argued that the property swap was unrelated to the sole-source contract. The auto parts shop owner had said that the vacant lot, which sits behind his store, was extremely valuable to his business operation, because it allowed him to park his trucks there.
In an interview with Voice of OC, Akoubian said he would have paid $500,000 for the lot, even though its fair market value was much less.
According to Stern, the amount of the gift to Pulido would be the mayor’s share of the home divided by the difference between what the Pulido family paid for the property and its fair market value.
The reporting requirements for the disclosure forms mandate only that the public official place a wide value range on his economic interests, so it's difficult to determine Pulido’s exact interest in the house.
Using the formula outlined by Stern, Pulido's share in the house was between $5,350 and $53,350. Either way, the gift would have been well in excess of the then $420 gift limit to public officials under state law.
City Attorney Sonia Carvalho confirmed to reporters this week that she is investigating the circumstances of the property swap and subsequent city contract. A report on the matter to the City Council should be ready by its meeting later this month, she said.
Carvalho also said her presentation will include “options on how to respond” to her findings.
The Fair Political Practices Commission, which typically investigates and enforces the political reform act, has not received a complaint about the issue and has not launched an investigation into the circumstances, according to Richard Hertz, commission spokesman.
Pulido hung up when reached by phone for comment.