County prosecutors announced Friday that they will not file criminal charges against Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido over a property swap with a city auto parts supplier, sharply disputing previous findings that he might have committed felonies with his votes for contracts with the vendor.
Instead, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' office said in a report that $13,000 in fines from the state Fair Political Practices Commission -- part of a settlement agreement ratified this week that included Pulido’s admission to six violations of the Political Reform Act -- was the appropriate punishment for the 20-year mayor.
“We reached the conclusion that the filing of criminal charges was not warranted, but administrative charges and penalties are appropriate sanctions for unlawful conduct to which Mayor Pulido has admitted,” states the DA report, which was released late Friday afternoon ahead of a holiday weekend, a common tactic used by government agencies when they have to make controversial findings public.
The DA's findings were widely expected as sources close to the investigation had said weeks ago that Pulido would not be charged. One source harshly criticized the DA's approach to the investigation and corroborated statements from other sources that DA investigators never interviewed potential key witnesses at City Hall.
“If they had done a thorough investigation, that’s OK I can respect that,” the source said. “To say we’re not even going to do an investigation -- they just stalled the whole thing out -- to me that’s no good.”
The DA's report disputed this, claiming that it had subpoenaed 9,201 pages in documents and interviewed numerous witnesses. However, the only witnesses named in the report are the targets of the investigation and the Santa Ana City Attorney.
In a statement sent to the media Friday, Pulido stated that he is “relieved.”
“After a lengthy investigation, I am happy that the DA’s conclusions of no wrongdoing were consistent with my understanding of the actions I took,” Pulido said.
The DA’s office launched its investigation after Voice of OC reported that Pulido and his family traded a parking they owned for a house in Westminster owned by Rupen James Akoubian, president of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts.
At the time of the swap, Akoubian and the Pulidos reported on sales deeds that both properties were worth $200,000. The county assessor’s office did its own appraisals and concluded that, while the parking lot was indeed worth the reported value, the fair market value of the house was actually $430,000.
In 2012, Pulido sold the house for $397,000, which based on the sales deeds meant he made a $197,000 profit. In between those transactions, Pulido cast two separate votes to award contracts to the vendor, including a $1.35 million no-bid contract to make NAPA Orange County Auto Parts the city’s exclusive car parts supplier.
Following the Voice of OC article, the city attorney’s office launched its own inquiry and concluded that Pulido’s votes for the contracts possibly constituted felony violations of the state’s conflict of interest code. The penalty for such crimes is time in state prison and disbarment from ever holding public office again.
The city-commissioned report -- written by former Riverside District Attorney Grover Trask, who was at the time working for the law firm Best, Best & Krieger – stated that Pulido’s failure to disclose the property swap was essentially a cover up intended to hide the conflict of interest in his votes.
However, in its report released Friday, the DA’s office rebutted Trask's findings.
The DA’s office focuses on Trask’s assertion that Pulido made a $197,000 profit when he sold the house in 2012. Pulido and Akoubian dispute this, saying that because Akoubian badly needed the parking lot for his business, the trade was even. Akoubian even asserts that he got the better end of the deal.
To support this claim, they produced an appraisal, paid for by Pulido’s legal defense fund, that show’s the parking lot’s investment value to Akoubian to be worth $720,000.
According to the DA and the FPPC, this means there was no illegal gift and no bribe. And without those findings, there is no felony conflict of interest.
Also, Pulido wasn’t involved in the business dealings with Akoubian, according to the report. Akoubian dealt solely with Pulido’s father. As for why the family transferred the house solely to Pulido before it was sold, Pulido claims that was to simplify the paperwork and to reimburse him for taking on the burden of making payments on a $500,000 family loan.
“The investigation found that these assertions against Akoubian and Mayor Pulido (that were leaked to the press) were inaccurate and unsupported by the evidence,” the report states.
The DA’s office also said that it declined to file perjury charges against Pulido – possible because the mayor signed sworn statements of economic interest omitting the property swap and other transactions related to it – because Pulido said he thought he didn’t have to disclose the property because it was outside city limits.
Finally, the report says the DA’s office investigated whether a conflict of interest existed surrounding the Pulido family’s lease of the parking lot to To and Mo towing, which started providing towing services to the city after the company leased the family’s parking lot.
However, the DA’s office concluded that because Pulido didn’t cast any votes on the towing services, there was no conflict.