Sweetwater Officials Plead Not Guilty

Allegations center on a so-called "pay-to-play" setup for a building contractor seeking projects with the Sweetwater Union high schools and Southwestern College

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    Sweetwater HS District
    (L-R) Gregory Sandoval, Pearl Quinones, Jesus Gandara and Arlie Ricasa are among those to be arraigned Friday.

    Five people connected to the Sweetwater Union High School District  pleaded not guilty to bribery charges at their appearance in a San Diego courtroom on Friday afternoon.

    The current and former board members, along with a contractor, are accused of setting up a pay-to-play scheme with construction companies bidding on major school upgrade projects.

    DA: 5 Charged in School Corruption Case

    [DGO] DA: 5 Charged in School Corruption Case
    Charges have been filed against five current and former Sweetwater school officials in a South Bay corruption case. (Published Thursday, March 1, 2012)

    Former Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara, who was fired last June amid accusations of misspending school funds, is among those to be arraigned Friday.

    Others include former Sweetwater Board President Gregory Sandoval, current Board President Pearl Quinones and current Board Member Arlie Ricasa.

    Lawyer Challenges DA Allegations Against School Board Members

    [DGO] Lawyer Challenges DA Allegations Against School Board Members
    DA investigators say past and present trustees and administrators at the Sweetwater High School and Southwestern College are part of a "Corrupt paid to play culture." (Published Friday, Jan. 13, 2012)

    This case came about when a company not paying bribes says it was fired from a job on school grounds in order to hand over the contract to The Seville Group.

    HAR Construction filed the suit asking for $15 million in damages.

    School Board Members Part of Months-Long Investigation

    [DGO] School Board Members Part of Months-Long Investigation
    Three Sweetwater Union High School District board members' homes were raided Tuesday, in addition to a construction company executive. (Published Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011)

    "They were upset with the way the district managed the contract with the information that was provided to them, the information they relied on in bidding the project and they also talked about how the district and specific members of the district, specifically interfered with their ability to finish the project and to do their job,” said legal analyst and attorney Bryan Synder.

    Henry Amigable, a Seville Group executive, is also scheduled to be arraigned in court Friday. He's accused of offering thousands of dollars on dinners, gifts and tickets to the school board members in exchange for their support.

    Docs Reveal Battle Between School and Construction Co

    [DGO] Docs Reveal Battle Between School and Construction Co
    Three Sweetwater Union High School District board members' homes were raided Tuesday, possibly in connection with a lawsuit between the district and a construction company with which the district terminated a contract. (Published Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011)

    Amigable's company also allegedly made campaign contributions to board members, to get the inside track on business, and spent more than $2,000 on theater tickets and dinner for South Bay board members and administrators, including Gandara.

    Gilbane Construction also allegedly paid a $1,000 beauty pageant fee, for Gandara's daughter, and a $500 beauty pageant scholarship for Sandoval's daughter.

    Sandoval said he has nothing to hide.

    All defendants -- whose homes were raided as part of the investigation --- face charges of accepting bribes and lying about it on legal documentation.

    This case puts school projects on hold, now and could expose the district to a $15 million dollar lawsuit.

    Another investigation has been launched involving several other Sweetwater Union High School District employees.

    Several employees within the district food services department have been accused of theft.

    Current superintendent Ed Brand has asked a third party to look into allegations. 

    Brand declined to give specifics about the thefts and who is being accused.

    Parents who spoke with NBC San Diego say they found out about the misspending of money by matching campaign dollars, with contracts awarded.

    One parent told us it's not enough that the superintendent is gone and that the manager of the bond money has been fired.

    "The elected officials took the money, failed to disclose the money," said the parent. "[They] then breached the public's trust by then taking the contributions, putting it in their pockets and then giving the contracts and awards to the people who gave them money, so, no, I'm not satisfied until they're all fired."

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