The Star-News

How did we get here?

Sat, Apr 12 2014 12:00 PM Posted By: Carlos R. Davalos

If this thing goes to trial this month — this maroon contusion on the psyche of the South County education system otherwise known as the Sweetwater/Southwestern corruption case —then the Xolos have an excellent chance of winning Super Bowl 2015.

Once former trustee Pearl Quiñones gave up the fight a couple weeks back and admitted to the lesser of the charges against her, all the other dominoes in this high-stakes political game fell into place. That was the word at the courthouse as this legal tug of war played out over the months. Years, actually.

And sure enough, last Friday Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr reeled in the biggest fish of this expedition: former Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Jesus Gandara.

The former bossman who years ago was accused of inviting contractors to his daughter’s wedding so they could curry favor with him and win juicy contracts pleaded guilty to two out of what felt like hundreds of charges against him — felonious conspiracy and misdemeanor non-reporting of gifts.

Turns out he may have been acting like Don Corleone at his daughter’s wedding but in the end, instead of whacking people, Gandara was guilty of administrative oversights.

That same day former board member Greg Sandoval also pleaded guilty. The two men will learn their punishments later this summer.

On Wednesday ex-school board member Arlie Ricasa was sentenced and four days ago former Southwestern College president Raj Chopra was punished, as was bond underwriter Gary Cabello.

Chopra was not present in court (having pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and now living out of state) and Cabello shambled out of the courthouse after his attorney revealed to the judge the corruption case has ruined him and the man has little means of paying back the $7,000 fine levied against him.

And that, for now, will be the imagery that lingers — absence and a sense of bewildered, aimless wandering.

It’s understandable, a defendant’s wanting to settle a case and avoid the risk of going to trial. But there is a sense of emptiness when a deal is struck, obviating the need for prosecutors and defense attorneys to put charges in context. To paint a meticulously clear picture of the alleged crimes that were committed and the accused’s explanation.

And as the final three of the  15 defendants in this years-old case bargain to stay out of jail in exchange for admissions of something, there’s a feeling of “How did we get here?”

How did we get to a place where there’s a real chance the current high school board may be left with one trustee if board members Jim Cartmill and Bertha Lopez are forced to step down, joining Arlie Ricasa and Quiñones. And how can we avoid coming here again?

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