San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced multiple felony charges against current and former South Bay board members and one contractor at a press conference Wednesday morning in an ongoing South Bay corruption investigation.
Dumanis said 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 contractor Henry Amigable.
Felony charges include perjury, filing a false statement, influencing an elected official and bribery, for a total of 28 felonies and eight misdemeanors.
“Today’s charges begin the process of holding those officials accountable for their actions on behalf of the taxpayers,” Dumanis said.
Dumanis said all defendants, who were notified this morning of the charges, were involved in “pay-for-play” with businesses that were awarded voter-approved bond contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Dumanis said the case is the largest of its kind in San Diego County and called the case “an excellent example of our office’s commitment to prosecuting public integrity cases.”
“Taxpayers, parents and students deserve better,” she said.
According to the investigation by the DA’s Office, the defendants received tens of thousands of dollars in drinks, food, hotel stays and entertainment from Amigable between 2008 and 2011.
Dumanis said board members “simply lied” by not reporting gifts on their Statements of Economic Interest, which is required by law. They also demanded campaign donations and other favors, according to affidavits.
“They traded their votes … for bribes,” Dumanis said.
Sweetwater High School District Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand held a press conference at noon the same day announcing the district’s suspension of its $644 million Prop. O contract with joint venture Gilbane Inc./SGI Construction Management’s project.
Amigable is the former vice president at Gilbane.
Despite the suspension Brand said projects will not be delayed at the district.
“We’re going to have internal staff and staff from the San Diego County Office of Education handle the construction,” he said. “We’re gonna get this ship back on track.”
Retired district teacher Fran Brinkman said it’s still not over and that in order to restore confidence to the district, it must be cleaned from top to bottom.
“The district says, ‘We’re all about the kids,’” she said. “Where are we about the kids?”
Parent and Chula Vista resident Stewart Payne said trust will not be restored any time soon and that the board does not have his respect.
“I’m going to ask each one of them to resign,” he said. “I hope that others will do the same.”
Brinkman and Payne were part of a small group which began giving information to the District Attorney’s Office in April.
Brand said the district is currently conducting a legal analysis, including looking into other individuals and businesses.
Dumanis said the investigation is ongoing, with possible additional charges, calling the corruption “outrageous and shameful.”
“We are looking at everything,” Dumanis said. “Others will be looked at up and down the county.”
Brand said in the meantime, board members will continue to conduct business until they are proven guilty.
“It hurts very deeply to have these allegations made,” Brand said. “In the meantime we have to be extraordinarily careful. We’ve got to make sure that everyone’s rights are protected.”
This story was updated Jan. 5.