More than a dozen school officials from the Sweetwater, San Ysidro and Southwestern College school districts appeared in court Friday to face charges including bribery and perjury.
Prosecutors said the school officials traded their votes on multi-million dollar construction contracts for gifts and other favors.
The current and former administrators, educators and contractors were indicted in December in a major "pay-to-play" public corruption case that now stretches across three school districts located in San Diego’s South Bay.
In court Friday, each entered a plea of not guilty.
Defendants include former Southwestern College Superintendent Raj Chopra, former Southwestern College trustees Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez, former Southwestern College administrator John Wilson, former Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara, former San Ysidro Superintendent Manuel Paul, former Sweetwater trustee and Southwestern College administrator Greg Sandoval.
Five defendants are current educators: Sweetwater trustees Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa, and Jim Cartmill; along with San Ysidro trustee Yolanda Hernandez. Ricasa is also currently a Southwestern College administrator.
Judge Ana Espana also ruled that Grand Jury transcripts will be made public, but because they may include inadmissible evidence like hearsay, and names of possible unindicted co-conspirators, she ruled that they not be released Friday.
In May, the defense attorneys will discuss the Grand Jury transcript line-by-line to argue which portions of the transcript should be redacted.
After the court proceedings, Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr said Grand Jury witnesses were instructed not to discuss hearsay during their testimony.
Marc Carlos, the defense attorney for Sweetwater trustee Pearl Quinones, noted his continuing objection to releasing any of the Grand Jury transcripts, arguing that parts are inflammatory and not relevant to the charges against his client.
After the arraignments, defense attorney Ana Kay unsuccessfully argued for a demur for her client Jeff Flores, a contractor at the center of charges against both Sweetwater and Southwestern defendants. Flores is the estranged son of Rene Flores, another contractor who was set to be sentenced this morning in the downtown courthouse, for his alleged involvement in the case.
The elder Flores is president of the Seville Group Inc., which was program manager for Sweetwater's Prop O bond measure. He entered a "no contest" plea in April 2012 to lesser misdemeanor charges related to the failure of public officials to disclose meals he bought them on state-mandated forms. His sentencing was continued today until after the trial for the other defendants is over.
The judge overruled the younger Jeff Flores' demur motion, ruling in favor of the prosecution. Afterwards, Jeff Flores entered a not guilty plea for charges that include conspiracy to commit a crime, giving or offering a bribe, and offering a thing of value to a school board member.
Readiness conferences for the case against all 15 defendants were set for July and October. A jury trial date was set for February 18, 2014.