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Contractor Pleads Guilty to Charge in Sweetwater Scandal

Henry Amigable pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge after a felony bribery charge was dismissed.

A construction company executive admitted Wednesday that he provided gifts, meals and tickets for entertainment events to members of the Sweetwater Union High School District to influence the school board's decisions in granting construction contracts.

Henry Amigable, 47, faces up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines when he is sentenced June 22.

Felony charges of offering a bribe and obtaining a thing of value to influence a member of a legislative body were dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea to a misdemeanor count.

Amigable said it was important for him to admit wrongdoing.

"I pride myself on my integrity and my trust," the defendant told reporters outside court.

"I wanted to step forward and cooperate with the District Attorney's Office. My integrity is in question here," he said. "I wanted to cooperate with the law and take my punches if I did something wrong, which I apparently did in the Education Code, and wanted to stand up and say I did something wrong, I'll take my punishment and move on."

Amigable said he didn't think he was doing anything wrong by wooing school board members with gifts and other things. He said his expenses were generated with the endorsement of his employers, Gilbane Building Co. and Seville Construction Services, which have not been charged.

The defendant denied that any school board members charged in the case, including former SUHSD Superintendent Jesus Gandara, ever reimbursed him or his employers for the meals, tickets and gifts.

Trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones, and 16-year former board member Greg Sandoval, were also charged in January.

Gandara, 55, Sandoval, 58, Quinones, 59, and Ricasa, 47, are charged with perjury, filing a false document and other counts. They are scheduled to be in court Friday for a status conference.

The defendants were allegedly involved in a "pay-for-play" culture with businesses that were awarded contracts for voter-approved bond projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars, said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

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, Dumanis said. The defendants were also given Los Angeles Lakers playoff tickets, Rose Bowl tickets and a trip to Napa Valley, she said.

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

Gandara's attorney, Paul Pfingst, spoke to reporters after Amigable's guilty plea and questioned whether the case was the "worst corruption case in San Diego County in recent memory," as characterized by Dumanis.

"The person who is alleged to have done the very worst, that is to bribe public officials, came into court today and said to the press today that he did not bribe anyone, he never intended to bribe anyone, and he did not even know that what he was doing was wrong," Pfingst said.

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

- City News Service

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