Santa Ana Council Backs Off Ultimatum on Pulido Report

A resident stands outside Santa Ana's City Council Chambers. (Photo by: Violeta Vaqueiro

A resident stands outside Santa Ana's City Council Chambers. (Photo by: Violeta Vaqueiro

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Santa Ana leaders have decided not to follow through on their ultimatum to release an investigative report on a suspicious real estate deal involving Mayor Miguel Pulido if law enforcement agencies didn’t file criminal charges by Tuesday.

Instead, they are keeping the report under wraps and using a letter to the Orange County District Attorney’s office that they hid from the public to justify their decision.

“[City Council members] feel compelled to release the report by the end of the month, unless we are informed that the release would jeopardize any actions contemplated by your office or the [Fair Political Practices Commission,]” reads a Sept. 3 letter from City Attorney Sonia Carvalho to the Orange County District Attorney’s office and provided to Voice of OC late Tuesday.

On Sept. 4, a Voice of OC reporter emailed a request to the city for Carvalho’s letter to the DA’s office, but neither Carvalho nor the city clerk responded, as required under the California Public Records Act.

The DA’s office pounced on the loophole two days after the council’s vote. A letter from Senior District Attorney Michael Lubinski to Carvalho stated that releasing the report could harm a criminal investigation of a “complex matter” by “multiple law enforcement agencies.”

The council’s ultimatum – approved by a 6-0 vote behind closed doors at the Sept. 2 council meeting — stems from a Voice of OC article regarding a property swap between Pulido and a city contractor that ultimately netted the mayor a nearly $200,000 profit.

In 2010, Pulido’s family traded a parking lot they owned for a house in Westminster owned by Rupen James Akoubian, who also owns NAPA Orange County Auto Parts. The house was worth more than twice the fair market value of the lot, according to county assessor records.

Later, the Pulido family transferred the house solely to the mayor’s name, and he sold it for nearly $400,000. Before the sale, Pulido voted twice to award contracts to Akoubian’s store, including a no-bid $1.35 million agreement to make NAPA Orange County Auto Parts the city’s exclusive car parts vendor.

Good government experts questioned whether the property swap amounted to a $200,000 illegal gift to the mayor, or even bribery. Also, Pulido did not report his interest in the house on public disclosure forms as required by state law.

After the article was published nearly a year ago, Carvalho launched an investigation into the property swap. She referred her report on the matter – which according to the city statement involves a legal analysis of whether the state’s criminal conflict of interest law under gov. code section 1090 was broken — to the FPPC and the DA’s office.

Both of those offices also began investigations, and sources have said that the IRS and perhaps even the FBI are also involved.

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

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