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New year, new charges Allison K. Sampité-montecalvo | Sat, Jan 12 2013 12:00 PM

The attorneys for the majority of 15 current and former South Bay officials postponed an arraignment at the downtown superior courthouse Monday following numerous charges handed down by a San Diego County Grand Jury.

The District Attorney’s Office charged the defendants with a total of 232 misdemeanors and felonies in an ongoing corruption case involving pay for play conduct with ties to three South Bay school districts.

Ten new people join others previously indicted, including Sweetwater school board members Bertha Lopez and Jim Cartmill; former Southwestern College superintendent Raj Chopra; former Southwestern College vice president of business and financial affairs Nicholas Alioto; San Ysidro school board member Yolanda Hernandez; Seville Construction Services president Jeffrey Flores; superintendent of San Ysidro schools Manuel Paul; former bond financier for Southwestern and Sweetwater Gary Cabello; former Southwestern College governing board member Jorge Dominguez; former Southwestern director of business, operations and facilities planning John Wilson; and former Southwestern College governing board president Yolanda Salcido.

The original five are former Sweetwater district superintendent Jesus Gandara, former board member Greg Sandoval, South Bay contractor Henry Amigable and current Sweetwater board members Arlie Ricasa-Bagaporo and Pearl Quinones,who plead not guilty to charges in January 2012.

Charges vary by defendant but include bribery related to contracts, perjury on financial disclosure forms, exceeding allowable gift limits, filing a false instrument, influencing an elected official, obtaining or offering a thing of value to influence a member of a legislative body, wrongful influence and conspiracy to commit a crime, conflict of interest due to personal financial interests and extortion.

The 16-member grand jury decision was made following seven weeks of deliberation beginning Nov. 7 and ending Dec. 21, during which approximately 70 witnesses testified, more 1,400 documents were entered into evidence and more than 57,000 pages of discovery were compiled by prosecutors, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

This is the third arraignment on this case, according to criminal defense attorney Paul Pfingst, who said he doesn’t expect a trial until fall or winter this year.

Judge Timothy Walsh granted the new arraignment date of Jan. 30 to give defense attorneys time to review the indictments.

The DA’s office has been gathering a case against South County officials since December 2011, when several homes were raided after complaints were made alleging the defendants accepted thousands of dollars worth of gifts, entertainment and meals in exchange for votes on multi-million-dollar construction contracts under voter-approved bonds.

In a prepared statement released yesterday, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the grand jury process moved the case along faster, saving court time and taxpayer dollars.

However, Pfingst and other defense attorneys say grand jury indictments are one-sided.

“The defense is now unable to cross examine … the sole witness who said there was a bribe,” Pfingst said, referring to Amigable. “…If the indictment was (somehow) flawed, we’d have an opportunity to file a demurrer…”
Initial felony charges against Amigable were dismissed in March after he pleaded guilty to offering a valuable thing to a school district governing board member with the intent to influence, a misdemeanor.

In addition, the indictments added two conspiracy counts to Gandara’s case.

Chopra, Alioto and Hernandez were not present in court but were represented by attorneys. All defendants postponed their arraignment except for Cabello, whose attorney entered a not guilty please on his behalf.

“He’s worked all over the state and has never been accused of any wrongdoing in 20-plus years of financing,” Cabello’s attorney Heather Boxeth said.

If convicted of the charges, defendants face between six months and seven years in state prison, as well as fines.

Additional penalties could include removal from office and a lifetime ban from elected office, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

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anniej Says:

Mon, Jan 14 2013 03:01 PM

SoCal: it appears you hit yet another nail on the head. We need an intervention here - someone, anyone with authority needs to step in, open up those books, sharpen up their non eraser pencils, and expose WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON. When contacting the authorities, be sure you attach news headlines to legitimize your concern, and be sure to attach the recent READER article on Brand, that way when he attempts to put up the smoke screen about a FEW malcontents he can be seen for what he is.

sosocal Says:

Sun, Jan 13 2013 08:35 AM

I definitely agree that it is time for an intervention for this board. If the County board of Education won't step up, then maybe we need to ask the State Board of Education to send some people down. And we need that thorough, forensic audit starting the moment Sweetwater broke away from the county's accounting and financial system and implemented their own. There has been NO ONE checking up on Sweetwater's financials for far too long!

justateacher Says:

Sat, Jan 12 2013 09:24 PM

Why is it that while they are fumbling around under indictment they are allowed to continue to make decisions for our district? At the very least they should all have to recuse themselves from any decisions that have to do with contractors and giving contracts since who knows what they have been up to since the charges were brought against them. Since they all claim they did nothing wrong - note they don't claim these things didn't happen just that they weren't wrong - who is to say they aren't continuing to act in this manner? What do we do when they are convicted in 6-9 months? What about all the decisions they've made (Brand's contract being a HUGE one) since they were indicted? I'm all for innocent until proven guilty but not in the capacity that they are serving. If a teacher was falsely accused of something they would immediately be put on leave - regardless of the innocent until proven guilty concept. Why are our board members and leader allowed to continue in their current positions of power? The community needs to stand up and hold these folks accountable or we will face yet another year of corruption with decisions and spending that SUHSD students will suffer from for many many years to come. Enough is enough.

lisa belize Says:

Sat, Jan 12 2013 12:32 PM


anniej Says:

Sat, Jan 12 2013 08:37 AM

SoCal: Very eloquently put!

Might I add - can they all just go away? They have showed us who and what they are and WE BELIEVE THEM!!!!!

sosocal Says:

Sat, Jan 12 2013 07:10 AM

May the truth be like that everflowing stream, gathering strength as all the contributing brooks converge, bringing to the awareness of what has been perpetrated to even the most opaque of minds.

May the depths of deceit be exposed for what they are.

May those whose intent it was to steal a better future from the children of these districts be found out.

anniej Says:

Sat, Jan 12 2013 01:20 AM

It is only a matter of time before this hits ALL the major news organizations. What we have here folks is our own little BELL CALIFORNIA. Our school board members including "the gandara" and Brand never thought twice about feeding their faces as many as 3x a day at some of the best restaurants in San Diego, ALL ON OUR DIME!!!!! Now according to Cartmill this was necessary in order to conduct district business, guess we now know how Cartmill views our hard earned educational tax dollars - free for the taking.

To see Brands legacy from his first reign see The Reader article by Susan Luzzarro, he charged everything from 7Eleven, Toys R Us, Motel 6, Neiman Markus just to name a few. I left off the names of the pricey restaurants. And I knw, according to Brand, IT WAS ALL FOR THE KIDS!!!!!!!!!!!

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