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Sweetwater School District Defendants Withdraw Motion To Recuse DA’s Office

Three former and current Sweetwater Union High School District board members charged with trading contract votes for gifts withdrew their motion to recuse District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis from prosecuting the case today when a judge refused to give them more time to investigate whether the prosecution was politically motivated.

Former Sweetwater board member Greg Sandoval, along with trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones, are charged with bribery, perjury and other counts in connection with the alleged "pay-for-play'' scheme.

Former Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara, who is also charged in the case, did not join the motion to recuse Dumanis.

At issue is a 30-second commercial that ran during Dumanis' unsuccessful campaign for San Diego mayor in which she referred to the prosecution of the Sweetwater defendants.

In court today, Ricasa's attorney, Allen Bloom, told Judge Michael Smyth that he needed more information before submitting the motion to recuse the District Attorney's Office from prosecuting the case.

Smyth said he had enough information to rule, so Bloom withdrew the motion.

Bloom said that once he has more information, he may renew the motion to recuse and also file a motion to dismiss the case on grounds of selective prosecution.

"Recusal means the DA shouldn't be allowed to continue on this viable prosecution because they have an influence politically and they can't do their job objectively,'' Bloom told reporters. "A selective prosecution motion would be to say, 'This shouldn't have been filed at all because it got filed because of political reasons. It's being handled differently. It's being handled unfairly and not objectively.'''

When the charges were first announced, 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, she said.

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

In March, 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 yet to be sentenced.

Gandara, Quinones, Sandoval and Ricasa have a preliminary hearing set for January. Each faces between four and seven years in state prison if convicted.

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