A former Sweetwater Union High School District board member on Monday was sentenced to house arrest and issued a fine for her role in what District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has characterized as the largest corruption scandal in San Diego County history.
Pearl Quiñones, 61, was ordered to 90 days of home confinement and must pay a $7,994 fine after San Diego Superior Court Judge Ana Espana denied her request to reduce a felony charge of conspiracy to a misdemeanor.
She also must complete 10 days of public work service.
Quiñones’ attorney Marc Carlos asked that his client’s charge be reduced because of contributions she has made to the community.
He said Quiñones’ motivation was about serving the South Bay and not anything else.
“Her life has been not about making money, her life has not been about pushing herself to some powerful financial position, her life has been about change,” he said. “Her life is about impacting people.”
Quiñones apologized to the court for what she said was a “mistake.”
“I want to tell the court, the community, my family, my friends, my supporters and everybody how sorry I am for making that mistake (of not reporting gifts),” she said addressing the court. “However I want you (Judge Espana) to know it wasn’t intentional. I didn’t do it by malice, I didn’t do it to hurt anybody.”
“However the fact is I made a mistake, I failed to educate myself and I accept responsibility.”
Espana upheld the felony charge because she said Quiñones was one of the most “egregious defendants” in the case.
Kathie O’ Brien, a Quiñones supporter, asked the judge to reduce the felony so that Quinones can stay on the school board.
“Over 40,000 voters in this community voted for her in her third term,” O’Brien said. “That’s a vote of confidence in this community that we need Pearl.”
O’Brien was one of about 20 people who showed up in support of Quiñones, most of them were members or retired members of the district’s classified employees union who say Quiñones was a strong supporter of classified employees.
However not everyone was sympathetic to Quiñones.
“If you do the crime, you should do the time,” said Tonda Johnson, a retired teacher in the district. “In an effort to stop the systemic and pervasive corruption in the South Bay please deliver a sentence appropriate to the crime,” Johnson said to the judge.
While Quiñones learned her fate, two more defendants in the same corruption case pleaded guilty last week to one misdemeanor charge each.
Sweetwater District board president Jim Cartmill went into court Thursday facing a slew of felony charges that ranged from bribery to a conflict of interest but all of that was erased as he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of accepting gifts over the state limit.
Trustee Bertha Lopez also pleaded to a misdemeanor for the same charge. She faced several charges that included bribery and perjury.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Ana Espana said both defendants could remain on the governing board.
The Sweetwater District released a statement stating: “While this is a personal legal matter and the district will not comment on the specifics of the case, the district is pleased that these legal matters have come to a conclusion. We hope that at this time the entire district and community will continue to focus of the achievement of students in the district.”
The district’s statement further adds that their legal counsel is reviewing the nature of the plea deals because the judge is letting Cartmill and Lopez stay on the board.
Sweetwater district spokesman Manny Rubio said attorneys for the district are looking into if the judge has authority to determine if Cartmill and Lopez can continue serving the district.
If either defendant were to resign from the board, the board would be at less than a quorum and wouldn’t be able to operate.
Sweetwater Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand previously said that if the district did not have a quorum the San Diego County Office of Education would step in and appoint its own board members until the district fills the vacated seats.
Cartmill has a June 3 sentencing date while Lopez will be sentenced June 9.
After her attorney characterized her as one of the “lowest players” in the school corruption totem pole, San Ysidro School District trustee Yolanda Hernandez was sentenced Tuesday to three years probation and a $4,589 fine for a misdemeanor charge of perjury.
Hernandez must also complete 40 hours of community service, a punishment her attorney tried to avoid because he said that was not part of the October plea agreement between Hernandez and the prosecution.
“I would ask that it (community service) not be imposed as to Ms. Hernandez because of the fact she has given a great deal of public service,” said defense attorney Michael Crowley.
This story was updated on May 1, 2014.