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South Bay Schools Corruption Arraignments Delayed

Arraignments were postponed while the courts reconsider moving the cases from Chula Vista back to San Diego. The lawyer for Sweetwater board member Pearl Quinones is concerned his client may not receive a fair trial in the South Bay.

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.

scott grover January 30, 2013 at 10:13 PM
Let's see: PQ was re-elected (groan) in the same area where she doesn't believe she can get a fair trial? Oh, I get it: She doesn't want to add jury tampering charges to her indictment.
Libi Uremovic January 31, 2013 at 12:32 AM
there is no place in this state where corrupted government officials are going to get jury sympathy.... everyone is sick of these @ssholes pillaging the tax payers... they need to do themselves and the tax payer a favor and plead out....if they drag it to court they need to get the maximum sentence...
Mark January 31, 2013 at 12:45 AM
The tar and feathers will keep!
Mark January 31, 2013 at 12:48 AM
Yes they can get a fair trial in the South Bay. Most sheep don't know the story. Bahh!
Alex Anguiano January 31, 2013 at 02:54 PM
31 seats in courtroom 16 in Chula Vista. I arrived early enough to get a seat. LOTS of people were waiting outside the room, including the defendants. The courtroom was cleared to make room for the defendants and the attorneys. The next group that was allowed to enter was the media. I would say that about four or five members of the general public were able to witness the proceedings. Does the Chula Vista facility not have a courtroom that can accommodate the public that desires to attend?

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