Santa Ana Mayor Has Legal Defense Fund

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Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido earlier this year established a legal defense fund to cover legal bills that are mounting as law enforcement authorities investigate his questionable real estate deal with a city contractor.

The “Miguel Pulido Legal Defense Fund” was set up in January, shortly after City Attorney Sonia Carvalho began investigating a real estate swap involving Pulido that ethics experts say looks like a bribe and could have violated state conflict of interest laws.

So far, the only known contribution to the fund came from H&S Ventures, LLC, an entity owned by Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli. It donated $25,000 on March 7, according to an independent expenditure report Samueli’s firm filed with the city.

In 2010, Pulido and his family swapped a parking lot they owned behind Orange County NAPA Auto Parts in downtown Santa Ana for a house in Westminster. The car parts store owner, Rupen James Akoubian, also owned the house.

The Orange County Assessor appraised the house at $430,000 – more than twice the appraised fair market value of the parking lot that the the Pulido family gave up in the exchange. Under state law, the exchange could have amounted to a $230,000 illegal gift, depending on the size of Pulido’s interest in the house, an expert said.

Later on, Pulido’s family transferred the house solely to the mayor, and he sold it at a $197,000 profit, according to public records.

Meanwhile, Akoubian received an exclusive, $1.35 million no-bid contract with the city to supply its vehicle fleet with parts. Pulido voted for the contract along with his council colleagues, and he voted for a smaller contract with the vendor before that.

Carvalho referred the results of her investigation to an undisclosed law enforcement agency – most likely the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. The California Political Practices Commission is also reviewing the deal.

“As of today the investigation is ongoing into the Pulido case,” FPPC spokesman Jay Wirenga wrote in an email to Voice of OC last week.

DA Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder declined to comment on “anything that we may be looking into.”

Unlike other political action committees, an elected official’s legal defense fund isn’t bound by contribution limits. The fund can only be used to defray legal costs like attorneys fees.

In Pulido’s case, the committee filings says it was opened “regarding the pending legal investigation into the sale and exchange of property by Mayor Pulido’s family in 2010 and 2012 by City Attorney Sonia Carvalho.”

Restrictions on such funds were tightened up in 2007 after state Sen. Ron Calderon used money from his fund to pay for golf outings, private airplane service and fundraisers. Calderon has since been indicted on bribery charges.

Although setup several months ago, few knew Pulido’s fund existed. All the contributors won’t be publicly known under the July 31 filing deadline for contributions.

This isn’t the first time a legal defense fund was setup for Pulido’s family. Supporters created a fund in 1985 to help the Pulidos fight a city eminent domain action to take the family’s auto care shop in a bid to redevelop the shopping center.

That battle – which the Pulidos won – launched the mayor’s political career.

Pulido did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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

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