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Sweetwater Board Members Arraigned on Corruption Charges

Southwestern College and Sweetwater Union High School District leaders were arraigned Friday after allegedly participating in “pay-to-play” tactics with construction companies for years.

Voters approved more than $1 billion in bonds for school improvements in 2006 and 2008. What followed, the District Attorney’s office alleges, was the largest public corruption case of its kind the department and San Diego has ever seen.

The five defendants in the Sweetwater Unified High School District corruption case, four of them current or former board members, pleaded not guilty to all charges this afternoon downtown, with a large audience of concerned citizens, supporters and media in attendance.

Judge Michael Smyth released all five defendants on their own recognizance, with no bail set.

A status conference has been scheduled for March 23 at 9 a.m. for all defendants.

Board members Pearl Quiñones and Arlie Ricasa will be booked and released Jan. 22 at the Los Colinas Detention Faciliy. When asked both said they were unwilling to step down from their present positions on the Board of Trustees and further stated through their attorneys that they were innocent of all charges.

Former superintendent Jesus Gandara is scheduled to be booked and released on March 23 due to his residency in Texas. Former board member Gregory Sandoval January 22 and Henry Amigable, former Gilbane employee on January 29.

Contractor Henry Amigable left immediately after the arraignment but his defense attorney said his client was only doing his job and reported all expenditures properly. He said that what is being called "pay to play" is misconstrued and the charges of bribery false.

Ricasa had a large group of supporters scattered through the courtroom, many wearing "I Love Arlie" buttons. Among the group were Southwestern Colleges current Associated Student Organization President Claudia Duran who has worked closely with Ricasa in her role.

On Dec. 21, the DA’s office ordered warrant sweeps of current and former Sweetwater Unified High School District board members and contractor Henry Amigable.

Gifts to decision-makers ranged from tickets to Lakers, Chargers and Padres games to tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, the DA's office said.

Many of the gifts and contributions went unreported, violating Political Reform Act requirements.

Jesus Gandara

The former SUHSD superintendent is charged with eight felony counts between April 2008 and April 2011, with four counts of perjury and four counts of filing false instrument and three misdemeanor charges of public official-wrongful influence between January 2008 and June 2010. Gandara was .

Gregory Sandoval

The former SUHSD board member is charged with eight felony counts between April 2008 and April 2011, with four counts of perjury and four counts of filing false instrument along with two misdemeanor charges of public official-wrongful influence.

Pearl Quiñones

The SUHSD board member is charged with four felony charges including two counts of perjury and two counts of filing false instrument between April 2008 and April 2009 and one misdemeanor charge of public official-wrongful influence.

Arlie Ricasa

The SUHSD board member is charged with four felony counts between April 2008 and April 2010 including two counts of perjury by declaration and two counts of filing false instrument and two misdemeanor charges between January 2008 and June 2010 of public official-wrongful influence.

Henry Amigable

The contractor and former Gilbane employee is charged with two felony counts between January and March 2008 of giving or offering a bribe and obtaining thing of value to influence member of a legislative body.

Evidence collected by District Attorney’s office before Dec. 21 warrant sweep:

  • Sept. 1, 2006. Dr. Jesus M. Gandara hired as superintendent of Sweetwater Unified High School District.
  • Nov. 7, 2006. Voters approve Proposition O, a $644 million bond measure to renovate, upgrade, repair, construct and acquire new school building and support facilities.
  • Jan. 19, 2007. Henry Amigable and wife host dinner for Gandara, his spouse, Sandoval, his spouse and BCA architects Paul Bunton and Rachael Del Fierro. $1,162.08, non-reported.
  • Feb. 2, 2007. Amigable bought lunch for former SUHSD interim superintendent Bruce Husson and former SUHSD Director of Planning, Construction and Maintenance Kay Wright. $83.62, non-reported.
  • Feb. 20, 2007. Board of trustees directed Gandara to initiate RFQ process for Program Management Services and recommend a finalist to the board.
  • Feb. 24, 2007. Amigable took Ramon Leyba, SUHSD assistant superintendent for facilities and operations; his wife; John Wilson, director of facilities and operations, SWC; and former SWC board member Yolanda Salcido to dinner. $696.66, non-reported.
  • Feb. 26, 2007. Request for Qualification/Request for Proposal issued. Seven proposals received by March 23, 2007.
  • March 2, 2007. Amigable to Sandoval and wife to dinner. $646.23, non-reported.
  • March 9, 2007. Amigable and wife hosed dinner for Gandara and daughter, Sandoval and wife, Ricasa and husband and SGI President Rene Flores. $1,741.70, non-reported.
  • March 30, 2007. Panel narrows three firms for final interview. Gandara and Leyba on final interview committee.
  • March 30, 2007. Amigable took Sandoval, Wilson and guest to dinner. $629.52, non-reported.
  • April 2, 2007. Amigable took Leyba to dinner. $192.69, non-reported.
  • April 20, 2007. Gandara recommended Gilbane/SGI as top candidate. Leyba stated in his opinion it was clear that Gilbane/SGI was Gandara’s choice and the final selection panel swayed heavily in its favor. He reported that Harris and Associates, Program Management for Prop BB, had done an excellent job and would have been more cost effective to award it contract for Prop O. He further stated he was the only opposing vote for Gilbane/SGI. He was made the director of education and incurred a $20,000 pay cut.
  • May 7, 2007. SUHSD board approves interim agreement with Gilbane/SGI for Program Management Services for Proposition BB and Proposition O bond measures.
  • May 11, 2007. Amigable to Leyba to lunch. $38.00, non-reported.
  • May 12, 2007. Amigable took Ricasa and husband to dinner. $313.18, non-reported.
  • May 16, 2007. Gandara recommended and board approved interim agreement with Gilbane/SGI for Program Management Services for Proposition O Bond Measure.
  • May 17, 2007. Amigable took Leyba and Ortiz to lunch. $60.40, non-reported.
  • June 14, 2007. SGI contributed $3,600 to Ricasa’s campaign for State Assembly District 78.
  • June 16, 2007. Amigable; his wife; Pearl Quiñones; Gandara; his wife; and Rosario Nunez to dinner. $835.66, non-reported.
  • June 18, 2007. Amigable and wife, Leyba and wife, Pat Buckley to dinner. $212.82, non-reported.
  • June 20, 2007. Amigable paid for drinks and appetizers for Sandoval and Wilson. $53.34, non-reported.
  • June 24, 2007. Amigable to Gandara to lunch. $14.09, non-reported.
  • Aug. 11, 2007. Amigable and wife took Gandara and wife to dinner. $175.53, non-reported.
  • Aug. 15, 2007. Amigable took Gandara to lunch. $58.47, non-reported.
  • Aug. 17, 2007. Amigable took Sandoval, Wilson and Art Lopes to lunch. $85.66, non-reported.
  • Aug. 24, 2007. Amigable and wife took Sandoval and Ernie Comacho, Pacifica Services to dinner. $384.35, non-reported.
  • Sept. 8, 2007. Amigable and wife took Gandara and wife to dinner. $360.96, non-reported.
  • Sept. 13, 2007. Amigable paid for drinks for Sandoval and wife, Gandara and wife at Hotel del Coronado. $87.28, non-reported.
  • Oct. 8, 2007. Amigable donated to the National Latino Education Fund at the behest of Pearl Quiñones. Non-reported.
  • Oct. 11, 2007. Amigable and wife treated Gandara and wife to dinner and theater. $482.09, non-reported.
  • Oct. 26, 2007. Amigable and wife hosted dinner for Sandoval and wife, Ricasa and husband, Gandara and wife. $797.73, non-reported.
  • Nov. 2, 2007. Amigable entertained Quiñones, Rosario Nunez and Ortiz to dinner and Jersey Boys performance. $976.23-dinner non-reported.
  • Nov. 10, 2007. Amigable and wife treat Sandoval and wife, Gandara and wife to dinner and tickets to Jersey Boys. $1,103.22. Gandara did not report dinner and tickets. Sandoval reported tickets.
  • Dec. 8, 2007. Amigable and wife took Sandoval, Gandara and wife to dinner at Hyatt Hotel $701.07, non-reported.
  • Dec. 10, 2007. Gandara recommended extension of the Proposition O Program Management Contract, board approved.
  • Dec. 21, 2007. SGI contributed $2,500 to SUHSD board member Jim Cartmill’s campaign committee.
  • Jan. 5, 2008. Amigable and wife host dinner for Sandoval, wife, Gandara, wife, SWC Art Lopez, and guest. $1,090.70, non-reported.
  • Jan. 25, 2008. Amigable took Sandoval and wife to dinner. $185.71, non-reported.
  • Jan. 28, 2008. Gandara recommended Gilbane/SGI awarded $7.5 million contract. Board approved with 5-0 vote.
  • Investigator determines that in 2007, Henry Amigable, Gilbane employee, curried favors and received preferential treatment from Gandara and several board members by “wining and dining” them prior to Evidence of Proposition O. Quid Pro Quo-Ricasa did not report and reportable interest for 2007 and 2008. Quiñones listed $45 theater tickets from Gilbane and nor reportable interest for 2008. Sandoval listed $250 for theater tickets in 2007 from Gilbane, $120 in Padre tickets and $100 for dinner in 2008 from Gilbane. Gandara listed no reportable interest for 2007 and 2008.
  • Evidence indicating SGI paid Ricasa $1,800 to send her daughter to a Congressional Youth Leadership Conference
  • May 20, 2008. Gandara recommended amendment for first nine projects of Proposition O for an amount not to exceed $9.9 million. Board approved with a 3-2 vote.
  • Nov. 4, 2008. Voters approve Proposition R, a $389 million bond measure to renovate, upgrade, repair, construct and acquire new school buildings and support facilities
  • March 2009. Amigable resigned from Gilbane Building Company and hired by Seville Construction Services in April 2009. Gilbane reports he resigned prior to being fired due to reported problems with his work performance and abuse of client entertainment expenditures. Gilbane provided Amigable’s expense statements involving SUHSD.
  • Sept. 9, 2009. John Wilson, senior director of business operations and facilities planning, announced retirement effective Dec. 30, 2009. Southwestern College (SWC) board approved.
  • Nov. 18, 2009. SWC governing board selected Seville Construction Services Inc. as Project Managers for Prop R.
  • SGI contributed approximately $81,500 from 2007 through 2010, including $13,600 to Arlie Ricasa and $22,500 to Friends of Jim Cartmill. Some of these contributions made prior to SUHSD board’s approval of the Proposition O contract on Jan. 28, 2008.
  • SGI contributed $12,500 to John McCann for school board 2010, $23,900 to Quiñones, $2,000 to Friends of Bertha Lopez and $7,000 to Friends of Greg Sandoval.
  • Amigable continued to wine and dine Sweetwater School Board during 2008 through March 2009 when he resigned from Gilbane.
  • Gandara entertainment expenses paid by Gilbane from 2007 through March 2009 are $6,124.95. $1,000 was given to daughter for fees associated with a beauty pageant.
  • Sandoval received $5,270.85 with $500 paid to his daughter for beauty pageant scholarship.
  • Quiñones received $1,872.23, Ricasa $1,280.22, Lopez $605.56 and Leyba $603.14.
  • May 11, 2010. SCS submitted invoice listing John Wilson as program liaison, and billed SWC $19,470 for 118 hours at $165 an hour.
  • May 31, 2010. Contract with Gilbane/SGI expired. SUHSD did not renew contract and voted to award contract solely to SGI. Elimination of Gilbane gave SGI a 51 percent increase in revenue.
  • September 7, 2010 e-mail from SGI Jaime Ortiz, Ricasa request SGI to buy a table for herself and guest to MAAC event (Ricasa Chair of MAAC) $2,500
  • Hector Romero, president HAR Construction, admitted purchasing dinners, lunches and drinks for board members Greg Sandoval and his wife, Arlie Ricasa, Bertha Lopez, Jesus Gandara and his wife and renting Halloween costume for Gandara.
  • Romero reported contributing to Ricasa and Lopez's political campaigns and donations to the Sweetwater Educational and Mariachi Foundation.
  • Romero reported being with Gandara in Mexico when Gandara contacted SGI and solicited a $20,000 contribution to Jim Cartmill's campaign for SUHSD School Board.
  • Romero advised SGI made $12,500 contribution to John McCann's campaign for SUHSD Board.
  • Romero reported being pressured to donate to Sweetwater Educational Foundation by SGI Program Manager Jaime Ortiz.
  • Romero reported he contributed to political campaigns of Ricasa and donations to the Mariachi Foundation with the hope of additional construction contracts through a "lease-lease back" contract.
  • Romero admitted developing relationship with Gandara to gain favors, claimed harassment by SGI Jaime Ortiz, claiming Ortiz responsible for not approving work performed by HAR Construction resulting with HAR Construction's contract terminated. Romero filed a civil suit.
  • Romero records showed he spent $1,568.59 in 2010 on Gandara and his wife and $707.92 on Sandoval and his wife.
  • Sandoval reported $225 in gifts from HAR Construction and claimed no reportable interests for 2010.

 

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