The Orange County District Attorney’s office is urging Santa Ana officials not to release a report on their investigation into a real estate deal between Mayor Miguel Pulido and a city contractor, arguing that such a disclosure would compromise an ongoing criminal investigation into the mayor’s dealings by “multiple law enforcement agencies.”
Senior Assistant District Attorney Michael Lubinski outlined the DA’s position in a letter sent today to City Attorney Sonia Carvalho. Lubinski claims Carvalho backtracked on her own confidentiality request regarding the city’s report, which was referred to the DA’s office over six months ago.
“I do not understand your change of position,” Lubinski writes. “The disclosure of confidential reports is premature and should not be released until our investigation has concluded to ensure justice.”
Tuesday, the City Council in a 6-0 vote decided to release the city’s investigative report by Sept. 30 if the DA’s office and Fair Political Practices Commission don’t file charges by that date.
Reached Thursday afternoon, DA Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder gave no indication that prosecutors would submit to the council’s ultimatum.
“We will be filing charges when the investigation is done, and I can’t say when that will be,” Schroeder said during an initial interview. “The investigation will be done when it is done.”
After this quote appeared, Schroeder claimed she was misquoted and asserted that the determination as to whether charges will be filed against Pulido won’t be made until the investigation is complete.
The report stems from a Voice of OC article published in November that details a property swap between Pulido and the owner of one of the city’s auto parts contractors that in the end netted the mayor a $197,000 profit. Subsequent to Pulido’s sale of the house, the contractor, NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, won a $1.35 million no-bid contract from the city.
Good government experts have said the transaction could be an illegal gift to Pulido or perhaps even be considered a bribe. Carvalho began her investigation into the deal soon after the article was published and turned over her report to the DA’s office around March.
Thursday, Councilman David Benavides said it is unlikely the council will reverse its decision, which was in response to a June 30 request by Voice of OC, under the California Public Records Act, that the investigative report be made public.
Benevides said council members do not want to be seen as complicit in a cover up of Pulido’s potential crimes. “The voters paid for this document — it’s theirs,” he said.
With his comments, Benavides echoed sentiments expressed by Councilman Sal Tinajero, who said last week he was worried that council would look like it is helping Pulido avoid criminal charges by not releasing the report.
Such comments speak to a belief held by some council members and others that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas isn’t willing to prosecute political corruption, especially when it involves a well-connected mayor like Pulido.
Those doubts came into focus when Rackauckas was a special guest at Pulido’s state of the city address earlier this year. Rackauckas led the flag ceremony and sat beside Pulido at the mayor’s table, a scene that was captured in a Voice of OC photo.
After the photo was published, Benavides publicly questioned the integrity of the investigation, saying “one wonders whether there is an impartial investigation.”
The DA’s office downplayed Rackauckas’ appearance at the event, asserting that Rackauckas attended as a dignitary, as he would many other public events. He wasn’t assigned a seat next to Pulido until he arrived, Schroeder had said.
In his letter, Lubinski writes that the matter being investigated is “detailed and complex.” Lubinksi didn’t specify other law enforcement agencies looking into the allegations, but sources have said the IRS and perhaps even the FBI are involved. The FPPC has also confirmed its own probe.
A task force involving the DA and those agencies was formally created last year to investigate political corruption in the county.
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