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5 Charged In Sweetwater School Corruption

Above: San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announces charges against current and former Sweetwater school district officials, Jan. 4, 2012.

Audio

Aired 1/4/12

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.

Evening Edition

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.

San Diego DA: Multiple Felony Charges In Sweetwater Corruption Case

Comments

Avatar for user 'frankiesmack'

frankiesmack | January 4, 2012 at 11:14 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Corruption like this has been around for years. Having been in the construction industry for over 15 years I have seen my fair share of it, I have seen companies get awarded hundreds of millions of dollars with out ever even bidding on projects. I have seen specialty projects get awarded to Big General Contractors and then the work sub contracted out at insane mark ups to the clients. District employees and city officials on an average salary buying cars and homes in their spouses names. All at the taxpayers expense. If you think this district spent hundreds of millions you should look into the activity at LAUSD, and other school districts. The company I currently work for was awarded over 100 Million in demolition work for one such school district in JOC contracts, over 95% percent of those contracts were then taken and awarded to one such General Contractor who then in turn awarded the work to one sub-contractor, at a mark up....Its insane!

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 4, 2012 at 1:50 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

"Lock 'em up and throw away the key!" -- Jim Cartmill

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 4, 2012 at 1:52 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Yet the biggest crook of all, Jim Cartrunofthemill gets a free pass from fellow Repuke Dumbanus who in the wake of faltering poll numbers, decides to actually do her job.

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Avatar for user 'bgulino'

bgulino | January 5, 2012 at 8:53 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

"in what prosecutors called the largest public corruption case of its kind in San Diego County"

Sadly, that distinction still belongs to Randy Cunningham.

You don't have to repeat everything the prosecution tells you.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 5, 2012 at 9:29 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Right on, Gulino! Let's not forget the Dukemeister.

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Avatar for user 'genek1953'

genek1953 | January 5, 2012 at 11:31 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Maybe "of its kind in San Diego County" means a case that the County DA filed without the feds having to take it to trial.

There's no cyanide testing involved in this case and no developmentally disabled person being accused of killing giraffes and elephants in satanic rituals, so maybe the DA will be able to get this one right.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | January 5, 2012 at 6:52 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Sad case all around, especially for the kids. But don't get to cocky yet. I've been on juries and these characters probably have connections to play this thing out. There's nothing that stipulates definition of extra-curricular activities that authorize superintendents, board of trustees and city contractors as to how they spend money (our taxpayer dollars). They don't have a do and don't list, and you'd be surprised how that will make a difference when this comes to court. These people wouldn't have done this if they didn't have a backup plan.

As for juries, you'd be surprised how sympathetic they can be. I was on a what could be called open & shut case if there ever was one. Still we had 3 clowns hold out because they thought it was funny and getting paid by their employer.

I don't mean to be cynical, but there it is.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 5, 2012 at 10:12 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Love the composition in the pix!

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 5, 2012 at 10:16 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Investigate former Food Services director Nancy Stewart and that whole conflict of interst scandal with SUHSD's food services dept.

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