Santa Ana Council Meets Privately on Pulido Property Swap

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido at a City Council meeting.

The Santa Ana City Council Tuesday night met privately to discuss an investigation into whether Mayor Miguel Pulido violated conflict of interest laws and perhaps others when he and members of his family consummated a real estate deal with a city contractor that ended up netting Pulido nearly $200,000.

Council members met in closed session for more than an hour and were joined by Grover Trask, former Riverside County district attorney and a conflict of interest expert with the law firm Best, Best & Krieger. Pulido waited outside.

City officials remained extremely tight-lipped about the issue after emerging from the meeting, with the only official public communication being handwritten notes delivered to reporters by City Attorney Sonia Carvalho that read: “The matter is under review by the appropriate individuals. We have no further comment.”

“This is a very sensitive, sensitive issue,” said Councilman Sal Tinajero. He declined to comment further.

Even the agenda item to discuss the city attorney’s investigation was secretive. It noted only that council members would discuss “anticipated litigation,” and that the city faced “significant exposure.”

If Pulido was nervous about that closed-door discussion, he didn’t look it. While his colleagues met, he chatted amicably with residents and retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray, who received a city proclamation later that night.

Carvalho began her investigation into the circumstances surrounding the property swap after a Nov. 14 Voice of OC article shed light on the deal.

In 2010, Rupen James Akoubian, president of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, exchanged a Westminster home with the Pulido family for a parking lot behind the store. The fair market value of the lot was worth $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 NAPA store the city’s exclusive auto parts provider.

Voice of OC also discovered that Pulido for many years misrepresented the nature of his ownership of the lot and the family’s auto care shop on economic disclosure filings.

The mayor will likely have to amend those filings going back to at least the 1990s, if not earlier, to show that he was a direct co-owner of the properties. He had always listed the properties as owned by a family trust he claims is controlled by his father.

Carvalho’s findings have yet to be made public, and her investigation continues.

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