The federal grand jury is scheduled to begin meeting today to hear witness testimony about a story NBC7 Investigates first brought you in August regarding the exchange of cold, hard cash between a contractor and the superintendent of San Ysidro schools, multiple sources have confirmed.
San Ysidro Superintendent Manuel Paul said during a June deposition that he accepted thousands in cash from a contractor who was seeking business with the South County school district. He said, at the time, the money was for Trustee Yolanda Hernandez's re-election campaign. Several trustees have modified their campaign disclosure forms since NBC7's initial report.
“It was cash given to me by Mr. Loreto Romero,” Paul said during the deposition in June. After a long pause, he added: “He gave me cash for campaign posters for Mrs. Yolanda Hernandez.”
San Diego State political science professor Brian Adams said exchanging thousands in cash for campaign purposes breaches state law.
Gareth Maden, the husband of trustee Raquel Maden, was scheduled to provide testimony today. Trustee Yolanda Hernandez also was aware of the grand jury meetings, but said she could not speak via telephone because she was meeting with her attorney today.
The cash exchange, which occurred in the parking lot of a Chula Vista restaurant commonly known as The Butcher Shop, came to light as part of a lawsuit between a former contractor, Art Castañares, and the district. Castañares alleges in court documents that the school board began making moves to terminate his $18 million services contract to outfit San Ysidro schools with solar panels after he refused to purchase a home for the Maden's.
Trustee Raquel Maden said that claim is baseless and untrue.
During the several years Castañares had the contract, not one solar panel was ever put into place.
Under the deal, San Ysidro agreed to buy power generated by the panels from Chula Vista-based Manzana Energy over 25 years for a flat fee of $18.9 million. Manzana was to pay $16 million to buy and install the panels, which would have generated about 70 percent of the schools’ power needs. School district officials estimated at the time that the deal would save San Ysidro $10.5 million in energy costs over the 25 year life span of the contract.
Because no panels were installed, no district funds were ever spent on the endeavor. Castañares’ is trying to build a case that his contract was terminated because he refused to “pay to play.”
Several sources, including one law enforcement official, also told NBC7 that two South County construction companies were raided by the FBI on Wednesday. An employee at one of the companies confirmed the Chula Vista establishment was raided by FBI agents, but declined to comment. NBC Investigates is collecting more information about the companies, and giving them a chance to respond.
Meanwhile, the San Diego County District Attorney's office is gearing up for grand jury meetings later this month as part of a separate prosecution of a "pay to play" scheme in Sweetwater, a bordering South County school district.