The Santa Ana City Council’s deadline to release its investigative report on Mayor Miguel Pulido’s questionable real estate deal has arrived, but whether council members will follow through on their vow is not clear.
Last month, the council was united in a 6-0 vote to release the report if the Orange County District Attorney’s office and Fair Political Practices Commission don’t file charges against Pulido by today, and it looks unlikely that either agency will meet the deadline.
But since the vote, fractures have emerged, with council members debating in a closed session two weeks ago over whether they should follow through on their ultimatum. They questioned their decision after the DA’s office sent a letter saying releasing the report would harm a criminal investigation by “multiple law enforcement agencies.”
Council members reached since the closed session haven’t been able to confirm whether the report will still be made public. And City Attorney Sonia Carvalho hasn’t returned multiple calls and emails for comment.
The council’s ultimatum stems from a Voice of OC article regarding a property swap between Pulido and a city contractor that ultimately netted the mayor a nearly $200,000 profit.
In 2010, Pulido’s family traded a parking lot they owned for a house in Westminster owned by Rupen James Akoubian, who also owns NAPA Orange County Auto Parts. The house was worth more than twice the fair market value of the lot, according to county assessor records.
Later, the Pulido family transferred the house solely to the mayor’s name, and he sold it for nearly $400,000. Before the sale, Pulido voted twice to award contracts to Akoubian’s store, including a no-bid $1.35 million agreement to make NAPA Orange County Auto Parts the city’s exclusive car parts vendor.
Good government experts questioned whether the property swap amounted to a $200,000 illegal gift to the mayor, or even bribery. Also, Pulido did not report his interest in the house on public disclosure forms as required by state law.
After the article was published nearly a year ago, Carvalho launched an investigation into the property swap. She referred her report on the matter to the FPPC and the DA’s office.
Both of those offices also began investigations, and sources have said that the IRS and perhaps even the FBI are also involved.
As time passed – and with the November election looming – council members have become frustrated at the pace of the investigations. In her announcement regarding the ultimatum, Carvalho said the council believes that six months was enough time for investigations to conclude and that council members want to release the report out of a commitment to transparency.
“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,” said Councilman Sal Tinajero last month.
But in the wake of the unusual ultimatum, there has been handwringing among some council members who worry that releasing the report could potentially help Pulido more than hurt him.
Tinajero, for example, is now emphasizing his position that if making the report public would compromise criminal investigations of Pulido, he would oppose its release.
Meanwhile, Councilman Roman Reyna, who is challenging Pulido for the mayor’s seat in the November election, said he doesn’t think “things have changed” since the vote to release the report, an indication that it would be made public.
Councilwoman Michele Martinez was clearly frustrated about the closed-door discussion, but declined to comment.
And Councilman David Benavides premised his comment by saying that the council’s decision to release the report was based on the lack of action by the DA’s office. But he stopped short of explicitly saying the report would be released.
“Seeing no change to what brought us to this conclusion, the council should move forward to take some action to be accountable to the taxpayers who paid for this report,” Benavides said.