Sweetwater Trustee Officials Going to Trial

Negotiations for a plea deal quickly unraveled Friday for six current and former Sweetwater officials snared in a three-year corruption probe.

There was no courtroom drama today, as no one ever made it into the courtroom. Defense attorneys stormed from the judge's chambers announcing, "We're done for the day," and one Sweetwater trustee had tears welling in her eyes as she left the courthouse with no deal in place.

What began as what District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis described as the largest corruption case in San Diego history - with more than 232 criminal counts filed against 18 defendants - appears headed for a lengthy and costly trial for the six remaining Sweetwater officials and the one contractor who has not yet accepted a deal.

Current Sweetwater trustees Bertha Lopez and Jim Cartmill were offered a plea deal of admitting to one misdemeanor charge of accepting gifts over the legal limit. They are each facing between 10 and 18 felony and misdemeanor counts.

Current trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones, as well as former board members Greg Sandoval and former Superintendent Dr. Jesus Gandara, were offered a plea deal of accepting one felony count each. They are heading to trial facing between 20 and 29 felony and misdemeanor counts each.

"We are ready to go to trial," said defense attorney Marc Carlos. "Ms. Quinones is ready to litigate the matter if necessary."

Charges the defendants face include extortion, conspiracy to commit a crime, felony accepting bribes and felony perjury counts.

The current board members who were contemplating admitting to felonies would have had to resign from the Sweetwater board, per state law.

Those who were contemplating pleading to misdemeanors are not required by state law to immediately resign, but according to Sweetwater board policies they may have to resign upon sentencing.

Prior, 11 other defendants accepted guilty pleas, admitting to either filing false documents on their state mandated forms to report gifts or being accessories to a crime. Among those defendants is former San Ysidro Superintendent Manuel Paul, who was first highlighted by NBC7 Investigates for accepting parking lot cash from a contractor seeking work with his school district.

That matter is the subject of a separate federal investigation.

Also among the 11 defendants who accepted plea deals are three contractors who agreed to work with prosecutors as a condition of their plea.

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