An investigator with the Orange County District Attorney's Office dropped by Santa Ana City Hall Monday to retrieve a bundle of documents from the city clerk, including meeting minutes and a contract with a towing company that has done business with Mayor Miguel Pulido and his family.
A Voice of OC reporter was in the lobby of the top-floor administrative office when investigator Paul Litchenberg walked in and announced to the attendant that he had arrived for the documents.
Litchenberg told the reporter he worked for a developer, but the reporter later learned that he is a DA investigator. After he left, Voice of OC requested to inspect the records the investigator received.
The contract and the meeting minutes, which range from 2004 to 2013, indicate that the DA's office is looking into the city's towing contracts, specifically the 2013 contract with Santa Ana-based To and Mo.
This is significant because To and Mo once rented a parking lot from the Pulidos that is now at the center of an ongoing investigation by City Attorney Sonia Carvalho into whether the mayor committed crimes when he and members of his family engaged in a property swap with the owner of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, another city contractor.
In 2010, Rupen James Akoubian, president of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, exchanged a Westminster home with the Pulido family for the parking lot, which is behind the store located on First Street. The fair market value of the lot was $230,000 less than the house, according to county assessor records.
Then in 2012, the mayor sold the home at a $197,000 profit.
During the nearly two years between those transactions, Pulido voted for two contracts for NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, including a three-year, $1.35-million contract in 2011 that made the Santa Ana-based store the city’s exclusive auto parts provider.
It is assumed that Carvalho will refer the results of her investigation to the DA's office, and there has also been speculation — buttressed by Litchenberg's visit to the city clerk this week — that the DA might have already launched its own inquiry.
However, DA spokeswoman Farrah Emami refused to comment or confirm whether an inquiry or investigation is underway.
There is also at least one other connection between Pulido and To and Mo.
The company's owner, Modesto Sanchez, is also the head of Victoria Property Holdings, LLC, an entity that owns buildings in an industrial section of Anaheim. One of those buildings, 349 S. Central Park Ave W., had housed Jetpatcher USA, a company that makes devices to repair potholes and has been a client of Pulido’s consulting firm, The LaFarga Group.
In 2012, Victoria Property Holdings filed an eviction suit againt Jetpatcher USA after the company was delinquent on its rent, according to records filed with the Orange County Superior Court.
Regarding Pulido's dealings with To and Mo, Sanchez said in an interview two months ago that he stopped renting the lot from the Pulidos in the late 1990s. But, he said, the To and Mo sign wasn’t removed until a few years ago.
He also insisted that Pulido had no hand in helping his company to secure a towing contract and only began doing work for the city last year.
In fact, he said, the city “ended up screwing” his company because the Police Department expanded its list of towing companies, known as a rotation, after other vendors complained about being kicked off the list.
“That guy don’t help nobody,” Sanchez said of Pulido. “He didn't have anything to do with the whole thing, period. It was all up to the [police] chief.”
In a follow-up interview Tuesday about a possible DA inquiry into his city contract, Sanchez joked about the situation and said that he had “nothing to hide.”
Sanchez then speculated that the DA was looking into his contract because of whispers that he is connected to the mayor somehow. He went out of his way to speak derisively about Pulido, saying he would throw a party if the mayor is ousted from City Hall as a result of investigations.
“Drinks are on me,” Sanchez said.
But when asked later about the eviction of Jetpatcher USA, Sanchez became upset and told the reporter not to call again.
“You will be hearing from my attorney,” he said.