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Facing Corruption Charges, South Bay School Board Officials Appear in Court

Contractors and South Bay school board officials were indicted on charges they took gifts and money for multimillion-dollar school construction contracts. Four of five current Sweetwater Union High School District board members are among the accused.

A county grand jury handed down indictments charging officials from three South Bay school districts with accepting gifts in return for favorable votes on contracts, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced Monday.

According to the DA's office, 15 defendents have been charged with 232 charges from the Sweetwater Union High School and San Ysidro schools districts and the Southwestern Community College District.

Five of the 15 defendants were previously charged last January, including Sweetwater board board Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa and former superintendent Jesus Gandara. The grand jury's decisions will supercede previous charges, the DA's Office said.

Sweetwater board members James Cartmill and Bertha Lopez, whose home was among those raided by sheriff deputies and DA staff in December 2011, were also charged.

Among felony charges includes bribery, perjury and other counts in connection with the alleged "pay-to-play" scheme.

When the Grand Jury convened in November and December 2012, dozens of witnesses testified and more than 1,400 documents were entered into evidence. Prosecutors have compiled more than 57,000 pages of discovery, the DA's Office said.

San Ysidro School District Superintendent Manuel Paul, who admitted to taking $2,500 in a steak house parking lot in a deposition for a separate case, was also indicted, U-T San Diego reported.

Southwestern College
 
Former President Raj K. Chopra
Former Vice President Nicholas Alioto
Former Director of Facilities John Wilson
Former Governing Board Member Yolanda Salcido
Former Governing Board Member Jorge Dominguez
 
Sweetwater Union High School District
 
Former Superintendent Jesus Gandara
Former Governing Board Member Greg Sandoval (a former SWC vice president and interim president)
Governing Board Member Arlie Ricasa (SWC’s EOPS director and former director of student activities–the ASO)
Governing Board Member Pearl Quinones
Governing Board Member Jim Cartmill
Governing Board Member Bertha Lopez
 
San Ysidro School District
 
Superintendent Manuel Paul
Governing Board Member Yolanda Hernandez
 
Construction Contractors
 
Seville Construction Services President Jeff Flores
 
Financiers
 
Alta Vista and Cabrera Capital Markets, LLC underwriter Gary Cabello

Most of the defendants appeared in court Monday and had their arraignment put off until Jan. 30.

"The indictment was presented to the defense lawyers today and we haven't had a chance to read it and it's very long," said Paul Pfingst, attorney for one of the defendants, former Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Jesus Gandara. "Before the defendants entered a plea of guilty or not guilty, we wanted to have the opportunity to read the indictment."

In March of last year, construction company executive Henry Amigable pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge that he provided gifts, meals and tickets for entertainment events to district officials to influence the school board's decisions on construction contracts. He is cooperating with prosecutors.

Attorneys for the other defendants were hoping to cross-examine Amigable at a preliminary hearing, but that won't happen now that there's been an indictment, Pfingst said.

He said attorneys are considering filing a legal challenge to the charges.

Quinones, who was re-elected amidst the charges, said she feels good about the situation "because I didn't do anything wrong." Lopez was also re-elected.

When the charges were first announced last January, Dumanis alleged that between 2008 and 2011, the defendants frequented San Diego-area restaurants, spending hundreds of dollars on food and drinks, sometimes more than $1,000 per outing. They were also given Los Angeles Lakers playoff tickets, Rose Bowl tickets and trips to Napa Valley and Mexico, Dumanis said.

For years, the public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multimillion-dollar construction projects, Dumanis alleged.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Sissy Jacks January 09, 2013 at 04:27 PM
Ms. Clingan: Many people do get confused and I am sure poster meant no harm. The South Bay and Chula Elementary school districts should be congratulated for operating in an ethical manner. They obviously realize that they are there for the children, NOT themselves. Sweetwater is not the only district at the center of the alleged corruption, Southwestern and now San Ysidro appear to be part of the alleged corruptive culture. Shame on all three!!!!!!!
Mark January 09, 2013 at 05:14 PM
Ruth - Southbay, Sweetwater, San Diego, who cares? Los Angeles, San Fransico, Oakland, who cares? Point 1. The Patch should make a correction, a mistake was made. Get over it. Point 2. Again, if guilty, I'll provide the rope... after the tar and feathers! The taxpayers who trust public employees need to be better represented. Libi - your on point.
RUTH CLINGAN January 09, 2013 at 06:09 PM
I agree Sissy Jacks, they need to write some positive things for the 2 districts you mentioned. Their standards are high and it shows. Thank you for you response.
Sissy Jacks January 12, 2013 at 06:11 AM
Ms. Clingan: I understand your point. Having said that my personal opinion is I am extremely happy with The Patch's coverage of the alleged corruption in the local districts named in the DA's investigation. It is important that the tax payers know how are monies are being spent. We are fortunate that at least our elementary districts have not caught the "what is in it for me plague"
Sissy Jacks January 12, 2013 at 06:18 AM
I would encourage all to read an article written by Susan Luzzarro on The Reader as many have said here this has been going on for a very long time. The sad thing is, our very own board brought Brand back via John McCann - the question is WHY DID HE BRING HIM BACK???????

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