Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has until the end of this week to decide whether to charge Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido with a misdemeanor for voting in January 2011 to approve a city contract with a local auto parts dealer just months after he had consummated a real estate deal with the businessman.
If Rackauckas does not file charges, then one of several possible crimes relating to the real estate deal, which is being investigated by the DA's office as well as state and federal authorities, will be off the table.
In 2010, Pulido swapped a downtown parking lot he owned with his family for a house in Westminster owned by Rupen James Akoubian, who also owns NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, a longtime city contractor. The house was worth more than twice the value of the lot, according to public records, and the mayor would in 2012 sell the house at a $197,000 profit.
Between the time Pulido engaged in the swap and sold the house, he voted for two separate contracts with the car parts vendor. The first vote was to renew an agreement that made NAPA Orange County Auto Parts one of many parts suppliers for the city’s vehicle fleet.
Then, in December of 2011, Pulido voted for a no-bid, $1.35 million contract that made the vendor the city’s exclusive parts supplier.
Voice of OC revealed the series of suspicious transactions in November of 2013, and the city commissioned its own investigation early this year.
The city’s investigative report, completed by former Riverside District Attorney Grover Trask, found that Pulido committed several violations of the state Political Reform Act and possibly violated the state’s more serious conflict of interest code, but left it up to the DA's Office to determine whether those violations were willful.
If Rackauckas were to make that determination, he could charge Pulido with misdemeanors under the Political Reform Act and felonies under Gov. code section 1090. If charged with the felonies, Pulido could be forever barred from holding elected office in California.
According to the report, the Jan. 4 statute of limitations only applies to Pulido’s January, 2011 vote. The statute on his December 2011 vote runs out in December of 2015, and the clock on filing potential felony violations began when the potential crimes were first revealed. and doesn’t run out until 2017.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission, another agency that is investigating the property swap, can still levy fines for violations of the act for another year, according to the report.
The report outlines several facts that prosecutors could consider to determine whether Pulido willfully violated the law, including that the mayor failed to disclose financial interests related to the property swap on his publicly filed statements of economic interest (which is also illegal); campaign contributions from the contractor’s president; and falsely claiming that the parking lot was held in a family trust.
Trask concludes that Pulido structured a cover-up of his real estate dealings with the contractor. Pulido hung up on a Voice of OC reporter when reached by phone for comment.
In his report, Trask urged the DA’s office to investigate whether Pulido had any influence over city staff in the run up to the votes in 2011.
Yet, as previous Voice of OC reporting has shown, the DA’s office for months neglected to contact key city staffers who would have been involved in the awarding of contracts to NAPA Orange County Auto Parts.
Meanwhile, those close to Pulido, like his campaign manager Denis DeSnoo, have donated thousands of dollars to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ reelection campaign. And a grand jury report called out Rackauckas for dropping charges against campaign contributors and those represented by prominent defense attorney Al Stokke, who is also Pulido’s attorney on the property swap.
When asked by the Los Angeles Times about the upcoming deadline, chief DA spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder told the newspaper, “why don’t we worry about that on Jan. 3?”
When contacted by Voice of OC on Monday, Schroeder refused to address the issue, citing past disagreements with the publication over news stories.
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