The Orange County District Attorney’s office has remained mum on whether it was able to meet the statute of limitations deadline on a misdemeanor charge against Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido that passed this weekend.
This means the window has potentially closed on prosecuting Pulido for one of several crimes that a city investigative report said he might have committed when he engaged in real estate deal with a city contractor.
The alleged crimes, including misdemeanors and felonies, were related to the mayor’s property swap with Rupen James Akoubian, the owner of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts, which later received a contract to be the exclusive parts provider for the city’s vehicle fleet. Pulido and members of his family traded a parking lot they owned behind auto parts store for a house in Westminster.
The real estate transaction ultimately netted Pulido a $197,000 profit.
Former Riverside District Attorney Grover Trask authored the report and found that the mayor structured a cover-up of his dealings with the contractor, but left it up to the DA’s office – which along with state authorities has been investigating the mayor – to determine whether Pulido willfully violated the law.
While the statute of limitations on prosecuting a potentially illegal vote to award a city contract to the auto parts dealer passed Jan. 4, there’s still time for other possible charges, including conflict of interest felonies that could earn Pulido time in state prison and permanent disbarment from elected office in California, according to the city’s report.
Neither Pulido nor DA chief spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder returned calls seeking comment.
However, while the DA’s office has been silent, City Council members and activists are expressing their suspicions that old-guard politicians like Pulido, who have ties to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, are safe from prosecution.
“Does it really come down to who you know for what you can get away with?” Asked Councilman David Benavides, a critic who also ran against Pulido for mayor in 2012. “It gives any taxpayer reason to lose confidence in the system.”
Benavides first publicly questioned the integrity of Rackauckas’ investigation into Pulido after Voice of OC published a photo of the DA seated at the mayor’s table during Pulido’s state of the city address last year. He says his doubts have only grown since then and no longer believes that the DA will file any charges.
Benavides is also dubious about a sharply worded letter the DA’s office penned to city officials last September demanding that they keep the city’s investigative report on Pulido under wraps. The letter claimed that the allegations in the report were under “active investigation” by “multiple law enforcement agencies.”
"Not only did [city officials] not hear from any other law enforcement agency," Benavides said. "[But] the DA himself is choosing to remain silent, and that’s disappointing.”
Since the release of the city’s report, Voice of OC found that 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 previously 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.
Councilwoman Michele Martinez was also blunt about what she believes is the DA’s motive for not pursuing the misdemeanor charge.
“I’m not in shock that the DA has ignored these serious allegations,” Martinez said in a text message to a Voice of OC reporter. “It just goes to show that if your part of the good old boys club in OC you are protected.”
City activists are also questioning the DA’s unwillingness to prosecute.
Laura Perez, a Santa Anita neighborhood resident whose confrontation with Pulido over his cell phone use from the council dais went viral on social media, said she found it troubling that the DA’s office refuses to address the issue brought to light in the media and at council meetings.
“Who can step in and start taking action if [the DA’s office is] not going to follow through with their responsibilities?” Perez said.