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Santa Ana mayor to be fined for political misconduct, but not charged

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido will be fined, but not charged with political misconduct involving land swap

The Orange County district attorney's office will not pursue criminal charges against Santa Ana's longtime mayor, ending months of scrutiny over allegations that Miguel Pulido made tens of thousands of dollars from a property swap with an auto parts businessman and then voted to award the businessman an exclusive city contract.

A $13,000 fine for six Political Reform Act violations, which was approved Thursday by the Fair Political Practices Commission, will instead serve as the sole sanctions against Pulido, who has served as the city's mayor for about two decades. The mayor's critics said the property swap was a disguised bribe and several of his council colleagues urged the district attorney to explore filing charges. But prosecutors, who took the case to a grand jury, said there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

"I'm relieved that it's over, that it's come to a positive conclusion, and that I can now go focus on my family and the city's business and my personal business," Pulido said Friday after prosecutors released their findings.

Allegations against Pulido stemmed from a 2010 exchange of a parking lot owned by five Pulido family members, including the mayor, for a rental house in Westminster owned by Rupen Akoubian, the operator of Orange County Auto Parts.

As mayor, Pulido subsequently voted twice on contracts related to the business. But only one vote, in January 2011, fell within the 12-month period that constituted a conflict of interest — drawing one of the Fair Political Practices Commission's sanctions. But the district attorney's office said it could not prove that the violation was intentional.

"A lot of things can slip by," Pulido said, explaining that the vote was one of many in a lengthy agenda and may not have received individual attention.

Failures in his annual statements of economic interests to describe his ownership of the parking lot accurately, to disclose the property exchange and to report correctly the home's subsequent sale constituted the remaining violations. Pulido described them to investigators as mistakes.

To call the property trade a "disguised bribe" was "inaccurate and unsupported by the evidence," according to a report released Friday by the district attorney's office, summarizing an extensive joint investigation with the Fair Political Practices Commission and the results of its legal review.

Pulido's father, Miguel Pulido Sr., negotiated the property exchange, not Pulido, the findings showed.

It was Akoubian who proposed the property trade, the district attorney's office said, and Akoubian who suggested billing it as a $200,000 swap, the district attorney's office said.

Although the assessor later appraised the home's value at $430,000, Akoubian maintained that it was "a very good deal for him," the report summarized. Akoubian could not be reached for immediate comment.

That Pulido reaped a profit when he sold it for $397,000 was disputable, the district attorney's office concluded, drawing a line between the terms "income" and "profit." As the district attorney's office saw it, the "primary 'profit'" came from the decision of the other family members to transfer their shared ownership of the house to Pulido — a transaction that "does not appear relevant to a conflict-of-interest analysis involving Akoubian."

Though Pulido violated state conflict-of-interest rules by voting on a contract with Akoubian, the investigators found that there were mitigating factors, including the fact that the contract already existed, the new contract did not change the amount awarded and the vote was unanimous.

"Simply stated, there is no evidence that the Akoubian Contracts — which generated income to Akoubian's business in exchange for services rendered by Akoubian's business — provided any income, even indirectly, to Mayor Pulido," the report stated.

Pulido also voted to award the business an exclusive, three-year contract at $450,000 per year in December 2011. That vote, however, fell outside of the 12-month period.

In an interview with district attorney's office, Pulido denied ever agreeing "to any arrangement with Akoubian in exchange for voting to approve a Santa Ana City contract with Akoubian," according to the report.

Pulido told investigators that he wasn't even personally interested in selling the parking lot.

In a written statement, Pulido said he believed his violations "constituted no harm to the public."

Pulido, who first became a councilman in 1986, was elected last year to his 11th term as mayor.

emily.foxhall@latimes.com

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