The Star-News

More charges against Sweetwater officials

Fri, May 11 2012 04:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampité

The San Diego District Attorneys office this morning added four new charges each against former and current Sweetwater Union High School District officials in an ongoing corruption case.

The defendants were charged with bribery, which allegedly occurred between May 16, 2007 and April 19, 2010.

The attorneys for former board member Greg Sandoval, former district superintendent Jesus Gandara and current board trustees Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa entered not guilty pleas on their behalf, denying the allegations.

The new charges are in addition to a list of felony and misdemeanors the four were charged with in January, including allegations of perjury and filing false documents.

Following the not guilty pleas, Gandara’s attorney Paul Pfingst addressed the judge on a separate matter that he said negatively impacts all four defendants.

Pfingst told Judge Michael T. Smyth that District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis created a mayoral campaign ad, using defendants in the case for her political gain.

The ad, which can be accessed through her campaign website, displays a header stating, “DA charges school officials with corruption” overlaid on a photo of a person getting handcuffed.

The ad goes on to talk about her high conviction rate and putting murderers behind bars.

“This is unprecedented,” Pfingst said. “The paid ad is discussing an ongoing case and it’s contaminating the jury pool and making it highly unlikely they can get a fair trial.”

Pfingst added that the advertisement is in violation of the rules of professional conduct and asked Smyth to put a gag order on Dumanis to stop running the ads.

“I created an ad,” Pfingst said, holding up a disc. “If I put this on TV today the court would be pretty upset with me. It would ask me what we were thinking.”

The remaining defense attorneys were on board with the proposed gag order, each taking turns to briefly discuss their concerns.

“This particular step … of using our clients in a political campaign is not just dangerous … justice is being distorted because of political ambition,” Ricasa’s attorney Allen Bloom said.

Smyth said he didn’t feel comfortable issuing a gag order on a politician, but admitted the ad could potentially hurt the case and added he’s not particularly happy with it.

Deputy District Attorney Leon Schoor said the prosecution has nothing to do with the ad.

“We’re not involved in any election campaign (events) … we haven’t seen the ad,” he said.

Bloom asked to present a motion to recuse the DA from further prosecution in the case and be replaced with “someone who’s not running for office.”

Pfingst said he would file a motion next week.

Schoor said the prosecution would respond in writing to any motions that have been made.

According to the initial investigation by the DA’s Office, the defendants were involved in “pay-for-play” with multi-million dollar contracts, where contractors paid thousands of dollars in entertainment for officials.

In January, Dumanis said public officials traded their votes for bribes when they neglected to report gifts on their Statements of Economic Interest, required by law.

Two contractors facing bribery charges by prosecution, pleaded guilty to lesser charges in March.  They include construction executive Henry Amigable and BCA Architects founder Paul Bunton, whose firm won a $5.3 million contract from the college in April 2010.

District Attorney investigators also executed search warrants earlier this month at the home of bond manager Gary Cabello, who has done work in the Sweetwater district and at Southwestern College.

Correction: An earlier headline suggested there were five people affiliated with Sweetwater Union High School District facing additional changes. There are four. The Star-News regrets the error.

© 2009 The Star-News