Indictments announced in South Bay school district’s public corruption case

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – 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, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie
Dumanis announced Monday.

Among the 15 defendants charged in two indictments are current and
former officials from the Sweetwater Union High School and San Ysidro schools
districts and the Southwestern Community College District.

Most of the defendants appeared in court today 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.”

Gandara, along with former trustees Greg Sandoval and current board
members Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinonez are charged with conspiracy, bribery,
perjury and other counts in connection with the alleged “pay for play”
scheme.

In March of last year, construction company executive Henry Amigable
admitted 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.

Quinonez, who was re-elected amidst the charges, said she feels good
about the situation “because I didn't do anything wrong.”

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 a trip to Napa Valley, 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.

Also charged in the indictments handed down last month were current
Sweetwater board members James Cartmill and Bertha Lopez as well as San Ysidro
School District Superintendent Manuel Paul.

Former Southwestern College Superintendent and President Raj Chopra, who
was allegedly involved with a plan in 2009 to obscure a gift from a developer
who was seeking a contract, according to court documents.

Categories: KUSI