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SD School Bribes

CHULA VISTA (CNS) - Several South Bay school board officials accused of accepting gifts in exchange for votes on construction contracts are scheduled to be arraigned today.

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

Former Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Jesus Gandara, along with former trustees Greg Sandoval and current board members Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones were charged a year ago and have each pleaded not guilty to bribery, perjury and other counts in connection with the alleged "pay for play'' scheme. Each faces between four and seven years in state prison if convicted.

Also charged in indictments handed down last month are current Sweetwater board members James Cartmill and Bertha Lopez, as well as San Ysidro School District Superintendent Manuel Paul and former Southwestern College Superintendent and President Raj Chopra.

Cartmill, Lopez, Paul and Chopra also are charged with bribery, perjury and other counts, and are expected to enter their pleas today.

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

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.

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