In closed session Tuesday, Santa Ana City Council members will consider a city-initiated criminal prosecution of Mayor Miguel Pulido stemming from his family’s property swap with a city contractor, Councilman Sal Tinajero confirmed Friday.
That option, along with a range of others, will be examined, Tinajero said. Council members will also consider whether to release the results of a city attorney investigation into the mayor’s dealings and a civil lawsuit, he said.
“We want to be very clear on what’s going on. We want a report back on what our city attorney knows,” Tinajero said. “But everything is pretty much on the table at this point.”
In November, a Voice of OC article revealed that in 2010, members of the Pulido family traded a parking lot they owned to Rupen James Akoubian, owner of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, in exchange for a house in Westminster. According to the public assessor’s appraisals, the fair market value of the house was more than twice as much as the Pulidos’ lot.
The family later transferred the house solely into the mayor’s name, and he sold it for nearly $400,000, netting a $197,000 profit. Meanwhile, Akoubian’s store received a $1.35 million, no-bid city contract to supply auto parts to the municipal vehicle fleet.
Good government experts have questioned whether the series of transactions amount to bribery.
Beyond the DA's investigation, the state Fair Political Practices Commission opened a probe and sources have speculated the IRS and possibly the FBI are looking into the matter.
The possibility of such an extraordinary action is born out of an increasing frustration among council members with the pace of the Orange County District Attorney's investigation of the property swap, which has been ongoing for most of this year, sources close to the council say.
However, Tinajero said he just wants the public to know that city leaders are taking the allegations seriously. The city attorney’s report was referred to the DA’s office and FPPC over six months ago, and there hasn’t been an update since.
“Hey, if there’s something here we can investigate and prosecute, then we do it,” Tinajero said.
Earlier this month, Voice of OC requested City Attorney Sonia Carvalho’s investigative report on the property swap and potential law violations. Carvalho denied the report, citing ongoing investigations by outside authorities.
Tinajero said the council will consider releasing the report because it doesn’t want to be seen as protecting the mayor.
“We don’t want the community to think we are in some way protecting Miguel [Pulido] or attempting to help him. That’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Tinajero said.
It is also clear that such an aggressive and unusual move against Pulido will likely be seen as hardball election-year politics by a council majority that has turned against the mayor in recent years. Pulido is running for an 11th term, with Councilman Roman Reyna as his top challenger. Tinajero, Councilman David Benavides and Councilwoman Michele Martinez are also facing challengers in their re-election bids.
According to Tuesday's City Council meeting agenda, there are three cases being considered – a possible receivership, a civil lawsuit and a criminal prosecution.
Martinez confirmed the discussion on legal actions against the mayor, but said only the civil and criminal cases are related to him. The receivership case is unrelated to Pulido, she said.
She said city officials should have an announcement to make after the closed-door meeting.
Tinajero said he is unclear on the details of the possible actions, saying he would have to wait for an update from Carvalho.
Carvalho does have power under the city charter to prosecute misdemeanor crimes. And good government experts have questioned whether there have been, at the least, several violations of the state’s Political Reform Act.
Willful violations of that law can be prosecuted as misdemeanor offenses. And if the council does choose to prosecute, Tinajero said, the city will hire special counsel.
Tinajero said he is prepared to pursue legal actions against the mayor as long as they don’t interfere with the DA and FPPC probes.
“If there’s an area that we should go towards based on the data that we have, and I can be assured that we’re not going to muddy up someone else’s investigation, I would be in favor of going down that route,” Tinajero said. “I’m really going in with… let me see what we have.”