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Bribery Charges Added In Sweetwater Corruption Case

Bribery charges were added today against four current and former Sweetwater Union High School District officials allegedly involved in a "pay-for-play'' culture with businesses awarded contracts for voter- approved bond projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Former Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara, along with trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones and 16-year former board member Greg Sandoval were charged with accepting a bribe. They were originally charged in January with perjury, filing a false document and other counts.

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 in granting construction contracts.

He is scheduled to be sentenced June 22.

The defendants' attorneys told Judge Michael Smyth today that District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' use of the case in political ads -- she is running for mayor of San Diego -- could influence a potential jury pool.

Smyth said he was uncomfortable issuing a gag order, as the defense had requested, and set a January preliminary hearing date.

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. The defendants 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.

If convicted, Gandara, Quinones, Sandoval and Ricasa each face between four and seven years in state prison.

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