A contractor in a South Bay corruption case brought forward by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in January changed his plea to guilty of a lesser charge Wednesday.
Henry Amigable initially pleaded not guilty in January to felony bribery charges, including obtaining something of value to influence a member of a legislative body.
Those charges were dismissed after Amigable pleaded guilty to violating education code section 35230, which states in part, “the offering of any valuable thing to any member of the governing board of any school district, with the intent to influence … is a misdemeanor.”
Amigable, 47, along with two former and two current officials of the Sweetwater Union High School District, pleaded not guilty to 26 felonies and eight misdemeanors including perjury, filing a false document, wrongful influence of a public official and bribery at their arraignment January 13.
Amigable’s attorney Daniel Greene said Wednesday that Amigable did not become aware of the principles within the code until after the arraignment and had no intent to violate it.
“He’s not guilty of bribery,” Greene said. “But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be wrongful intent on the part of others.”
Greene also said the rules within the education code are different when dealing with public officials. Amigable worked on three major bonds during his construction career prior to Prop. O.
“In other districts, there was never this kind of involvement with officials,” he said. “He (Amigable) relied on his employers to train him on the process.”
Greene said that Amigable pleaded guilty to show the public that he is accepting responsibility and that going forward, he would cooperate with the DA’s Office.
“I pride myself on my integrity and my trust,” Amigable said. “I wanted to come forward and cooperate with the law … I’ll take my punishment.”
Amigable won contracts with Southwestern College and the Sweetwater Union High School District. He worked for Gilbane Building Co. and then Seville Construction Services.
According to the investigation by the DA’s Office, the defendants were involved in “pay-for-play” with businesses that were awarded voter-approved bond contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars and received tens of thousands of dollars in drinks, food, hotel stays and entertainment from Amigable between 2008 and 2011.
Sweetwater district Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand suspended the contract with joint venture Gilbane Inc./SGI Corp, which has a contract with the district through voter-approved Prop. O, for a $644 million construction job.
“Mr. Amigable was an employee of a company where part of his mandate was to make relationships,” Greene said. “People hired him because he was very good at what he did.”
Greene maintained his client’s innocence in January and emphasized the difference between his client and the other defendants by saying he’s not a politician and works hard for his pay.
Greene also said that “wining and dining happens all the time” and that the term “bribery” requires having corrupt intent, which he said Amigable didn’t have.
On Wednesday, Greene emphasized that providing meals, drinks and entertainment are a part of constituted usual business practices, signed off by his company and did not involve taxpayer money.
“It came out of the profits of the company, which is why he was reimbursed by the company,” Greene said of Amigable.
Greene said that Amigable felt a certain amount of pressure to deliver things upon request from board members and Greene went so far as to call them demands.
“There was a chance that if he didn’t (deliver) the contract could be terminated,” Greene said.
Gandara’s attorney Paul Pfingst said he agrees that there was no intention to bribe, but said that Amigable was reimbursed for gifts and that will later be proved in court by producing checks.
Pfingst also said there are legitimate expenses and not everything is prohibited by a code.
The five defendants, whose homes were raided last month by the DA’s Office, include former Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Jesus Gandara, former district board member Greg Sandoval, school board trustees Arlie Ricasa-Bagaporo and Pearl Quinones and Amigable.
In January, Dumanis said board members traded their votes for bribes when they neglected to report gifts on their Statements of Economic Interest, which is required by law.
Earlier this week, the DA’s Office raided the homes of former Southwestern officials Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez. The case remains an ongoing investigation.
Amigable faces a maximum sentence of six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000. Judge Michael T. Smyth scheduled his sentencing for June 22 in department 50 downtown at 9 a.m.