Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido (Right) and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
By Adam Elmahrek
May 11, 2015 at 2:53 PM
Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido has agreed to pay $13,000 in fines to the state’s political watchdog for several violations of state law related to a real estate deal he conducted with a city contractor.
The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) found that Pulido failed to disclose his financial ties to the owner of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts and also illegally voted for a contract with the vendor to provide equipment for the city’s vehicle fleet, according to a settlement agreement between Pulido and the agency made public Monday.
Pulido’s illegal vote and failure to disclose his ties to the contractor were “more than an inadvertent oversight,” and “served to conceal a conflict of interest,” the agreement states.
However, noticeably absent from the settlement agreement was an analysis of whether his transaction with the contractor constituted an illegal gift, which was the focus of the FPPC investigation. This created a possible loophole for public officials to receive gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a good government expert.
“Without an explanation (as to) why this isn’t a gift, the FPPC has left open a potential loophole that others might try to exploit,” said Tracy Westen, the ethics expert who first questioned whether the property swap was a bribe in disguise.
FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said the agency can’t comment on actions not yet approved by the commission, which is slated to sign off on the settlement at its May 21 meeting. Pulido couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
In 2010, Pulido and his family traded a parking lot they owned for a house in Westminster owned by Rupen James Akoubian, president of NAPA Orange County Auto Parts. Akoubian and Pulido’s family recorded on sales deeds at the time that both properties sold for $200,000.
Later, the Orange County Assessor’s office appraised both properties and found that the fair market value of the house Pulido and his family received was worth $430,000 — more than twice the market value of the parking lot.
In 2012, the mayor’s family transferred the house solely to Pulido, who then sold the property for $397,000. By the time Pulido had sold the house, he voted for two separate contracts with the vendor, including a $1.35 million no-bid contract making NAPA Orange County Auto Parts the sole supplier of car parts to the city.
Good government experts had questioned whether the property swap amounted to an illegal gift, or even a bribe, because the house was worth so much more than the parking lot, and because Pulido hid his financial ties to the vendor, who then received a lucrative contract.
But the Orange County District Attorney’s office — which launched an investigation after Voice of OC exposed the property swap in 2013 – never interviewed potentially key witnesses at City Hall. And a source with knowledge of the situation said the DA never actually embarked on an investigation.
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