Arraignments for more than a dozen current and former South County school officials accused of accepting gifts in exchange for votes on construction contracts were postponed Wednesday pending a decision on where the case will be heard.
A hearing is scheduled Feb. 6 regarding the district attorney's request that the case be heard in downtown San Diego rather than the South Bay Courthouse. A judge last week signed an order transferring the case to the South Bay.
Defendents and the District Attorney's Office were surprised to hear the case was moved to the courthouse in Chula Vista. Marc Carlos, attorney for Sweetwater school board member Pearl Quinones, is concerned his client will not receive a fair trial in the South Bay, U-T San Diego reported.
Judge Stephanie Sontag rescheduled the defendants' arraignments to Feb. 15.
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.
For years, the public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes–trips, gifts, 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.
Do you think these cases should be held in South Bay? Can a South San Diego jury give the accused a fair trial? Share in comments.
City News Service contributed to this report.