Santa Ana Council Issues Ultimatum on Pulido Case

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido at a City Council meeting.

Santa Ana City Council members voted Tuesday in closed session to release to the public the city attorney’s report on Mayor Miguel Pulido’s property swap case on Sept. 30 if District Attorney Tony Rackauckas or the state’s political watchdog don’t file criminal charges against the mayor by then.

The unprecedented move by the council comes nearly 10 months after Voice of OC reported Pulido had engaged in a questionable real estate deal with a city auto parts contractor prior to the contractor receiving a $1.35 million no-bid contract from the city. 

Government ethics experts said at the time that the deal could very likely have been an illegal gift to the mayor or perhaps even be considered a bribe.

City Attorney Sonia Carvalho began investigating the deal almost immediately after the article was published and six months ago turned over a report to the DA’s office and the state Fair Political Practices Commission. The DA and the FPPC then launched their own investigations.

Since then, frustrations among council members at the pace of the investigations have mounted.

In July, Voice of OC filed a request for Carvalho’s report under the California Public Records Act. The request was denied, citing the ongoing investigations.

On Tuesday, Carvalho, speaking on behalf of the council, said six months is enough time for the agencies to complete their investigations and expressed the council’s desire to release the report sooner rather than later in the name of transparency.

The November 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 ultimately 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.

With their decision Tuesday, council members essentially chose the middle road of several options before them. A source close to City Hall said other possibilities included the city itself filing criminal charges against the mayor and a request that the state Attorney General begin an investigation.  

In a surreal scene, Pulido milled about the packed chambers talking mainly to City Manager David Cavazos and Police Chief Carlos Rojas while his colleagues debated his fate. 

After Carvalho’s announcement, the mayor declared that it was time to move on to the council’s consent calendar, which drew chuckles from the crowd.

Update: DA Chief of Staff Susan Schroeder said late Wednesday that the law enforcement agency would issue a formal response on the matter Thursday. An FPPC spokesman also reached Wednesday said the agency had no comment because its investigation is ongoing.

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