Representatives of a locally based printing company have recently acknowledged meeting with Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido in his City Hall office to discuss hiring the mayor as a consultant, which could be considered an illegal act by the mayor.
In separate interviews, the president and a former sales consultant of Codra Enterprises, a printing and manufacturing company headquartered in Irvine, said they met with Pulido in 2011 to discuss hiring the mayor to help them expand their operations into Mexico.
Jim Obermayer, the former sales consultant, said the meeting showed how Pulido easily switched hats from being mayor to consultant for hire.
“Sometimes he just gives advice because he’s mayor of Santa Ana, and sometimes he has this consulting business and could introduce you to people in Mexico,” Obermayer said.
Meanwhile, company President Gary Kim confirmed that the meeting took place but would not elaborate on it. Obermayer said that the company ultimately decided not to hire Pulido and that “no money changed hands.”
Neither Kim nor Obermayer could recall the exact date of the meeting, but another source said it occurred on March 24, 2011.
California Government Code Section 8314 prohibits an elected official from using his or her public office space for personal use, with the potential of a $1,000 fine for each violation. A larger pattern could mean criminal abuse of office charges, an ethics law expert said.
There is an exception in the law for “minimal and incidental use,” but that typically applies to something such as a two-minute phone call to a family member, according to an official with the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Pulido would be found in violation of the law if it were clear the meeting was strictly private business. That is how Obermayer saw it.
“I thought it was quite clear that we were talking to Mayor Pulido the consultant. We met at City Hall because it was convenient for him,” Obermayer said.
Jessica Levinson, an associate professor at Loyola Law School, said one documented instance of using the office for a personal business meeting probably would lead to only a civil fine.
It could, however, also turn into a criminal issue if more instances are uncovered, Levinson said. “If you are running a consulting business out of the mayor’s office, there is a possibility for criminal liability,” she said.
The exact location of Pulido’s consulting business has always been a mystery. Sometimes he takes consulting fees directly, and other times they go to his business, The LaFarga Group, according to his required statements of economic interest.
The statements list the address of his business as being the same place as his tax preparer’s office. However, as Voice of OC reported in 2012, he didn’t have a business license in that city or in Santa Ana.
Obermayer said he first connected with Pulido while on a business trip to Mexico with the mayor and officials from Towne AllPoints, a Santa Ana-based direct mailing and marketing company. Pulido was introducing Towne AllPoints leaders to his contacts in Mexico, Obermayer said.
Obermayer said he asked Pulido how, as mayor, he had time to spend several days in Mexico with Towne AllPoints. Pulido replied that he was on vacation from the city, according to Obermayer.
Obermayer said his belief is that the mayor wasn’t working on city time and therefore not acting unethically.
“I’m very in tune with politicians playing games, but I just never saw that with Miguel,” Obermayer said.
Pulido has long been accused of peddling his influence via the mayor’s seat.
In 2011, Voice of OC published an investigation that showed Pulido was paid by an alleged con artist to pitch green energy products to other mayors for use in their cities while at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., a taxpayer-funded trip.
In 2010, OC Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley reported on a lawsuit against Pulido by a businessman who claimed that the mayor’s father and one-time business partners had financial ties to the city’s food truck commissary and that Pulido voted twice to award a conditional use permit to the company.
And this latest revelation comes as local and state law enforcement agencies are investigating a property swap between Pulido and a city contractor that ultimately netted the mayor a $197,000 profit.
The owner of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts gave Pulido and his family a house in exchange for a parking lot that was $230,000 less than the fair market value of the parking lot, according to county assessor’s records. Pulido then voted for two separate contracts with the vendor, including a $1.35-million no-bid contract that made the store the city’s exclusive auto parts provider.
Pulido declined to comment for this article.