Five defendants charged with multiple felonies in a South Bay corruption case filed by the District Attorney’s office last week pleaded not guilty during their arraignments today in San Diego Superior Court.
Defendants 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.
The charges include 26 felonies and eight misdemeanors of perjury, filing a false document, wrongful influence of a public official and bribery.
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.
Quinones' attorney Marc Carlos, said his client maintains her innocence.
“Ms. Quinones’ vote is not for sale,” he said.
Carlos also referred to emails exchanged by Quinones and Seville contractor Rene Flores as being taken out of context.
In one email dated May 6, 2007, Quinones told Flores, “I support those that support me!” and also asked Flores to ‘please remember to help her raise money from the people he knows.’
Carlos said the correspondence was a misinterpretation.
In a statement to the press following the arraignment, Gandara's attorney Paul Pfingst said his client had an “impeccable background” before coming to San Diego.
“We have to find out why these accusations have been made,” Pfingst said. “…Then let the system take its course.”
Some 100 members of the public showed up for the arraignment. The crowd included about 25 Ricasa-Bagaporo supporters, who wore buttons that read, “We love Arlie.” Mixed in were also those who oppose the board wearing “Stop corruption” buttons.
Ricasa-Bagaporo’s attorney Allen Bloom said these kinds of charges have ended up in exonerations and apologies.
“She (Ricasa-Bagaporo) has dedicated herself to the community,” he said. “She’s a mother of five … This room is filled with people that have come in support of her.”
Quinones and Ricasa-Bagaporo said they would not step down from their roles as high school district board members.
Amigable’s attorney Dan Greene also maintained his client’s innocence and emphasized his client is different than the other defendants.
“He’s not a politician,” Greene said. “He works hard for his pay.”
Greene also made the point that Amigable is not a contractor, but a “construction executive,” and he always has been.
Greene said “wining and dining happens all the time” and that the term “bribery” requires having corrupt intent, which he said Amigable didn’t have.
Chula Vista resident and parent David Walden who attended the arraignment, said he knew this day would come.
“We’ve been fighting this in the community for well over a year and a half,” he said. “There are certain facts that cannot be ignored. They took money, it was wrong—they violated the people’s trust.”
Former Sweetwater district employee Nancy Stubbs said the entire situation is like a double-edged sword.
“It’s sad for the families and it’s sad for the community,” she said. “But they (the defendants) made their choices.”
San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has characterized the public corruption case as the largest of its kind in San Diego County.
A readiness hearing date was scheduled for all defendants on March 23 at 9 a.m. in Department 50 in San Diego Superior Court downtown.
Judge Michael Smyth released the defendants on their own recognizance.
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