Second of two parts. Read part one here.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011 | Those who do business with Chaz Haba can come to regret it.
In at least a dozen lawsuits going back to 1985, former employees, business partners and creditors have accused the Van Nuys-based entrepreneur of misdeeds ranging from unethical business practices to outright fraud.
And as Voice of OC reported Monday, records and interviews show that Haba, through his company iCeL Systems, Inc., might have duped officials in Anaheim, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and even Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.
But one local official seems to have done well by Haba — Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido. Pulido received between $10,001 and $100,000 from iCeL Systems Inc., according to his conflict of interest disclosure for 2009 (see attached file).
In an interview with a Voice of OC reporter, Haba called Pulido a “good friend” but was vague when asked specifically what Pulido did as an employee of iCeL. Haba stated, however, that Pulido provided iCeL with entree to other mayors.
Pulido was also evasive when pressed for specifics. Nonetheless, the mayor’s employment with iCeL is another example of a business dealing that while legal raises ethical questions.
In 2009, Anaheim entered into a nearly $100,000 contract with iCeL Systems for a pilot project involving a station filled with dozens of its lithium ion battery packs at Energy Field, a park in central Anaheim.
The company claimed that the battery packs would store energy from alternative sources such as solar panels. Eventually consumers with battery packs installed in their homes would be able to jump off the electricity grid during periods of peak energy use.
Former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle had so much confidence in iCeL’s technology the he singled out the city’s partnership with the company in his 2010 State of the City address. He said the technology would allow Anaheim residents to save money on their electric bills and that the partnership would soon be “thriving.”
But iCeL was never able to deliver on its promises, and by late 2010 the project had ground to a halt. Company officials began leaving after not being paid for months, and a former high-level iCeL official said the battery station in Anaheim, which is next to a children’s playground, was left in an unmonitored and dangerous state.
‘A Good Friend’
The same year Haba inked the contract with Anaheim he had Pulido on the iCeL payroll. Haba said Pulido used his expertise in alternative energy technologies and his standing as one of the country’s “lead energy mayors” to promote iCeL in his meetings with other mayors.
Haba said Pulido’s main discussion point in those meetings was “how iCeL Systems can change your city for the future.”
Pulido — who would only respond to a Voice of OC reporter’s questions through text messaging — denies that Haba paid him to pitch iCeL products to other mayors. He said he worked for the company “as an alternative energy engineer working in the field for 30 years,” adding that he “evaluated his [Haba’s] concepts and offered advice.”
When asked whether he knew of the lawsuits filed against Haba or the problems with the Anaheim contract, Pulido replied: “No.”
Haba, however, remembers Pulido doing more than just giving advice. “I think we did meet some city mayors as a result of Pulido telling them about our product,” Haba said. “For that I was very grateful.”
A relationship with Pulido could pay dividends for someone in Haba’s business. In 2009, the mayor was appointed chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Energy Policy Committee. Pulido also sits on the board of directors of the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Orange County Transportation Authority.
Pulido is a member of the board of directors of CleanTech OC, a green-energy industry trade group started in 2010, which includes other public officials on its board of directors, including Pringle and Anaheim’s Public Utilities General Manager Marcie Edwards.
iCeL is just one of several companies in the energy industry that has put Pulido on their payrolls, according to his statement of economic interest.
From 2008 through 2010, Pulido received income from Firm Green Inc. The company deals in “virtually all aspects of the global green energy business,” according to its website.
Pulido is listed as a consultant on his statement of economic interest, but on the company’s website he’s listed as vice president of governmental and regulatory matters. He also received income from Orbit Industries, an electrical construction materials manufacturer based in Los Angeles.
Another Ethically Challenged Relationship?
Pulido’s employment with iCeL does not appear to be illegal, but depending on what he did for the company, it could be unethical, said Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.
If Pulido was touting iCeL products in meetings with other mayors and not identifying himself as an iCeL representative, then it could be seen as “taking advantage of his position” as mayor, Stern said.
“When you’re talking to colleagues, they would want to know that you have a personal financial interest rather than a good-government interest,” Stern said.
This is far form the first time that Pulido’s business relationships have raised eyebrows.
Last year, the OC Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley reported that Pulido voted to aid a vending-truck supply business where his father was involved.
Then in December it was revealed that Pulido was in line to receive a $500,000 finder’s fee for his efforts to help a consortium buy state buildings that the Schwarzenegger administration was auctioning. The sale was canceled, however, and Pulido never received the fee.
Belgravia Capital, one of the investment firms in the consortium that was trying to purchase the buildings, had Pulido on its payroll that year. Belgravia Capital is owned by R.J. Brandes, who has not only employed Pulido over the years but also contributed to his re-election campaigns.
Most recently, Voice of OC reported that Pulido voted for a Santa Ana ordinance in 2006 that requires merchants to corral their shopping carts and singles out electronic wheel locks as a favored method. Pulido voted for the ordinance, despite the fact that Brandes owns a company that specializes in making such wheel locks.
Finally, there is evidence that Pulido’s relationship with iCeL goes deeper than his conflict of interest disclosure shows. In 2009, the company entered into a partnership with RTP Controls, a firm chaired by Brandes, according to an iCeL email obtained by Voice of OC.
Pulido received consulting paychecks from RTP Controls from 2008 through 2010, according to his statements of economic interest.
iCeL officials who worked on product design and concepts say they never worked with Pulido, and the company’s former director of engineering doubts Pulido’s claim that he offered engineering expertise.
“As a matter of fact, I don’t understand that at all,” said David Nyberg, iCeL’s former director of engineering. “Why would iCeL systems and Chaz Haba in general hire me if the mayor could do that? Why was I brought on board?
“The times I interacted with him [Pulido], he never came off to me as a tech-head,” Nyberg said.
Nyberg remembers Pulido stopping by iCeL headquarters on several occasions. He said he understood that Pulido was helping Haba market the battery technology to other public officials.
Pulido and Haba seemed to be similar, Nyberg said, because they were both “smooth talkers.”
“The two of them were just right as rain,” Nyberg said. “Two peas in a pod.”