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SD School Bribes, 1st Ld

CHULA VISTA (CNS) - A February 2014 trial date was set today for 15 current and former South County school officials accused of accepting gifts in exchange for votes on construction contracts.

Among the 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.

Thirteen defendants were arraigned today. Two others, Yolanda Hernandez and Gary Cabello, pleaded not guilty in January.

Former Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Jesus Gandara, former trustee Greg Sandoval and current board members Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones were charged more than a year ago in connection with the alleged ``pay for play'' scheme.

Also charged in indictments handed down in December 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.

Judge Ana Espana scheduled trial for Feb. 18 of next year.

The judge also agreed to unseal grand jury transcripts with redactions.

A hearing on that issue is scheduled for May 24.

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 alleges.

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. He was sentenced to three years probation.

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