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California

Santa Ana mayor under investigation in real estate deal

Miguel Pulido
Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido bought a Westminster home from the owner of an auto parts store for about $230,000 below fair market value and later sold it for a $197,000 profit, according to property records.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Santa Ana’s longtime mayor is under investigation for his relationship with an auto parts business owner, to whom the mayor sold a piece of downtown property and then voted in favor of giving an exclusive city contract.

As part of his real estate transaction, Mayor Miguel Pulido also purchased a home from the auto parts business owner at more than $200,000 below fair market value, according to property records.

Pulido later sold the home in Westminster for a $197,000 profit.

The Fair Political Practices Commission notified Pulido last week that it had opened a conflict-of-interest investigation into the matter. The letter is dated Feb. 18.

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Pulido and his family members entered into the real estate deal with the owner of NAPA Orange County Auto Parks in September 2010, swapping a piece of downtown property for the home in Westminster. The Voice of OC first reported the transaction.

Real estate records show that both pieces of property were valued at $200,000. But after the sale was recorded, the Orange County assessor’s office determined that the Westminster home was sold below fair market value and appraised it at $430,000.

The downtown property was adjacent to the auto parts store.

Fifteen months later, Pulido and his council colleagues voted to make the NAPA auto parts store the city’s sole provider for Santa Ana’s fleet of 753 vehicles. The three-year contract with NAPA was valued at $1.35 million, and council records show that the deal was touted as a way for the city to streamline deliveries and reduce costs.

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The agreement also had the option of being extended for as many as three successive one-year terms.

Pulido, who had been mayor of Orange County’s second largest city for nearly two decades, did not disclose that he and his family had made the real estate deal with Rupen James Akoubian, the owner of the auto parts business. The mayor later voted again to extend the contract for the auto parts shop.

Less than a year after voting to give Akoubian the exclusive contract, Pulido sold the home in August 2012 for $397,000, pocketing a $197,000 profit.

The mayor did not include the Westminster home in his statements of economic interests for 2010, 2011 and 2012, as required by law. He submitted amendments to his 700 Forms late last year after the real estate deal was first disclosed in media reports.

Pulido did not return repeated calls for comment.

But Akoubian, the owner of the auto parts business,, said the property swap was unrelated to the contract the company was later awarded.

“That’s a joke,” Akoubian said. “There were no favors given or taken.”

Akoubian said he never dealt directly with Pulido but worked through the mayor’s father, Miguel Pulido Sr. Acquiring the downtown property, he said, was “critical” to his business.

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“I would have given two homes for that property,” Akoubian said.

Pulido, who got his start in politics after he and his family waged a long battle against a city effort to condemn his father’s auto shop, was elected to the City Council in 1986 and has been mayor since 1994.

In 1989, the fight with Santa Ana resulted in the family receiving the downtown property as part of a settlement deal. The property was, and remains, a parking lot.

Pulido has long been dogged by allegations of failing to be fully transparent, though rarely has an allegation resulted in a fine. In 2003, an Orange County judge ordered him to pay $1,000 for failing to disclose financial interests just outside the city’s borders, but the same judge later dropped the fine.

Pulido’s influence on the council has been waning in recent years, and he frequently votes with the minority. He has also lost political support in Santa Ana. The county’s Democratic Party, the city’s police union and the county’s labor federation all deserted him in the last election, though he easily won reelection.

adolfo.flores@latimes.com

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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