Prosecutors in the Sweetwater Union High School District scandal got two more high-level guilty pleas: one from the former superintendent and another from a former school board trustee. NBC 7’s Gene Cubbison reports.
A former school superintendent indicted in a sweeping corruption scandal pleaded guilty to accepting gifts and not reporting them, his attorney confirmed Friday.
Former Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to accept gifts in excess of the legal limit and one misdemeanor of failing to report the gift.
Gandara was one of several school officials accused of trading votes on multi-million dollar construction contracts for gifts and other favors.
In the original indictment, Gandara faced allegations of extortion and conspiracy to commit a crime among other charges.
Defense attorney Paul Pfingst said his client was released on his own recognizance to return to his home in Texas while he awaits sentencing.
"Dr. Gandara accepted responsibility for accepting gifts - generally in the form of meals - in excess of the legal limit," Pfingst said.
Pfingst said the Sweetwater Unified School District prospered under Gandara’s leadership.
“It’s somewhat of a tragedy today that the gift giving and failure to report certain things have led to the end of a career of a man who has helped students for so many years,” Pfingst said.
More than a dozen school officials from the Sweetwater, San Ysidro and Southwestern College school districts face charges including bribery and perjury in the case that involves officials accepting gifts and other favors in exchange for votes on multimillion dollar construction contracts.
More than two weeks ago, Sweetwater trustee Pearl Quinones agreed to plead guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit a crime and one misdemeanor related to filling out paperwork concerning gifts.
In December, former Sweetwater trustee Arlie Ricasa admitted to one misdemeanor count for accepting gifts and not reporting them on state-mandated forms.
Gandara was fired in 2011 after being accused of misusing funds.
In 2006, Sweetwater trustees Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa flew to Texas to interview Gandara for a position at the recommendation of the head-hunting firm Hazard, Young and Attea & Associates.
Gandara's rocky tenure included borrowing bond money to pay off daily general fund expenses; inviting contractors to a "money tree" event for his daughter's bridal shower; hiding PR expenses from the board and a controversial exit strategy that was investigated by state pension regulators.
Prosecutors say he and several other board members spent night after night at expensive meals, sporting events, and trips, funded by contractors seeking work with the district.