5 Charged In Sweetwater School Corruption
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Charges were filed today against five people -- including the ex-superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District, school board trustees and a contractor who worked for the district.
Charges were filed today against five people -- including the ex-superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District, school board trustees and a contractor who worked for the district -- in what prosecutors called the largest public corruption case of its kind in San Diego County.
KPBS Reporter Kyla Calvert will have more on the charges filed against the officials and the contractor on Wednesday's show.
Evening Edition airs weekdays at 5 PM and 6:30 PM on KPBS TV.
Charged with bribery, perjury and other charges were former SUHSD Superintendent Jesus Gandara, trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones, 16-year former board member Greg Sandoval and Henry Amigable, a contractor who worked for a construction company hired by the school district.
All were allegedly involved in a "pay-for-play" culture with businesses that were awarded contracts for multimillion dollar projects under the district's voter-approved $644 million construction bond, said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Between 2008 and 2011, the defendants frequented San Diego-area restaurants with Amigable and others, racking up hundreds of dollars in food and drinks at a time, in some cases reaching more than $1,000 per outing, Dumanis said. The defendants were also given Los Angeles Lakers playoff tickets, Rose Bowl tickets and a trip to Napa Valley, she said.
The county's top prosecutor said the investigation has been going on for a year.
"The widespread corruption we uncovered during our investigation of this case is outrageous and shameful," Dumanis said. "For years, public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multimillion-dollar construction projects. The corruption was nothing short of systemic."
Gandara, Sandoval, Quinones and Ricasa are charged with perjury, filing a false document and other charges. Amigable is charged with giving or offering a bribe.
Sweetwater Interim Superintendent Ed Brand countered Dumanis' assertion that corruption is widespread in the district.
"I've been affiliated with our district for five decades," he said. "There's outstanding individuals throughout our district. I believe that if there's anything that's wrong with the district it's localized."
Brand said he suspended all activities of SGI, the company managing the district's Prop. O construction bond projects. The district's contract with a Los Angeles-based legal firm that was mentioned in the district attorney's affidavit has also been suspended, and Brand will not sign a three-year contract offered to him by the board of education recently to be the district's permanent superintendent.
The two sitting board members charged in the case, Quinones and Ricasa, will not be asked to step down.
“Currently all members of the board are allowed to conduct business and unless they’re convicted of a crime would be allowed to do so,” Brand said.
All told, the case includes 26 felony charges and several misdemeanors. Dumanis said the investigation is ongoing and could result in additional charges and defendants.
All defendants will be arraigned Jan. 13 at the downtown courthouse. If convicted, they face between four and seven years in state prison.
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