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Santa Ana won't renew contract with firm that made deal with mayor

Santa Ana won't renew contract with firm that made deal with mayor
Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido is being investigated by the state over a real estate deal and a subsequent vote. (Katie Falkenberg / For The Times)

Santa Ana officials won't renew a contract with an auto parts dealer involved in a real estate swap with the city's mayor, who now is at the center of a conflict-of-interest investigation.

Miguel Pulido is being investigated by the Fair Political Practices Commission for swapping properties with the owner of an auto parts firm and then voting in favor of giving the company an exclusive, no-bid city contract worth $1.35 million.

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NAPA Orange County Auto Parts' three-year-contract, set to expire in June, had the option of being extended for as many as three successive one-year terms.

"Given the controversy surrounding the contract we just felt it would be better to initiate a new process to avoid even the appearance of impropriety," said Jose Gonzalez, a Santa Ana spokesman.

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

As part of his real estate transaction, Pulido and family members were able to purchase the home for more than $200,000 below fair market value, according to county property records.

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

The mayor 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, before voting.

Nor did Pulido include the Westminster home in his statements of economic interests for 2010, 2011 and 2012, as required by law. He submitted amendments to his filings late last year after the real estate deal was first disclosed.

Akoubian did not return calls seeking comment.

In February, Akoubian told The Times that the property swap was unrelated to the contract the company was later awarded. He said he never dealt directly with Pulido but worked through the mayor's father, Miguel Pulido Sr.

A spokesperson for the Fair Political Practices Commission said the panel had launched the investigation on its own, not in response to an outside complaint. The agency is looking into possible conflicts of interest, failure to report real property and violations of the state's limit on gifts.

The Fair Political Practices Commission does not conduct criminal investigations, and its findings typically result in administrative rulings or fines. Others agencies, though, may conduct parallel criminal investigations.

Gonzalez said NAPA Orange County Auto Parts "will be allowed to participate" in the bidding process.

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