The Star-News

The net widens

Sat, Jan 05 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampité-montecalvo

A South Bay county corruption probe led by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis broadened recently to include more defendants.

A San Diego Grand Jury on Dec. 28 returned indictments on Sweetwater Union High School District board members Bertha Lopez, Jim Cartmill and San Ysidro schools superintendent Manual Paul, according to criminal defense attorney James Pokorny, who represents all three.

In total, Pokorny said that 35 misdemeanor and felony charges were brought against the trio last Friday, including filing a false instrument, perjury, offering a bribe and receiving gifts.

The charges stem from actions taken by the DA’s Office in the last year with the arraignment of three current and former school board members, a former district superintendent and a contractor, according to Pokorny.

Sweetwater district board members Pearl Quiñones and Arlie Ricasa, former board member Greg Sandoval, former superintendent Jesus Gandara and contractor Henry Amigable pleaded not guilty to 26 felonies and eight misdemeanors, including perjury, filing a false document, accepting gifts and bribery on Jan. 13, 2012.

Dumanis said the defendants traded their votes for bribes when they neglected to report gifts on their statements of economic interest, required by law, and by participating in pay-for-play in multi-million-dollar construction contracts between 2008 and 2011.

The 19-member grand jury panel began meeting in November to investigate in lieu of holding a public preliminary hearing in open court.

A hearing is set for Monday, Jan. 7, where defense attorneys will enter another not guilty plea and a trial date will be set.

Gandara’s attorney Paul Pfingst said he received a letter Dec. 27 stating a complaint had been filed against his client.

However, a search on Monday at the County Clerk’s Office revealed no complaint had been filed, according to Pfingst.

“I’ve got a letter that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” he said. “The charges they sent me are essentially the same charges as before.”

Pokorny and other defense attorneys said they’ve not yet seen the facts alleged in the indictment.

“We are assuming that the groups of these counts relate to various dates,” Pokorny said. “I don’t know what dates the prosecution is alleging… We’re not going to know the specifics for quite some time.”

Pokorny said with the grand jury indictments the case in essence starts all over.

“The complaint is being abandoned,” he said. “The district attorney gave up the ghost on that attempt and decided to go by way of grand jury indictment so instead of presenting probable cause in an open court they’ve decided to do it secretly. We have to deal with that as best we can.”

Pokorny said that although the DA’s Office is well within its rights to proceed “by way of indictment,” a fairer decision would have been to proceed through a complaint.

“The DA is leveling very serious charges against people who have no criminal records — people who have seen fit to devote their lives to students in south San Diego County,” Pokorny said. “The jury is going to have to swallow a lot to believe that these kind of people ... committed the kinds of acts that the DA is alleging.”

Lopez, Cartmill and Paul are scheduled to be arraigned Monday, Jan. 7, at 2 p.m. in San Diego Superior Court.
A representative from the DA’s Office said that no comments could be made on an open case.

Other individuals scheduled to be arraigned include Gary Cabello, Jeff Flores, Jesus Gandara, Yolanda Hernandez, Pearl Quiñones, Arlie Ricasa, Greg Sandoval, Nick Alioto, Raj Chopra, Jorge Dominguez, Yolanda Salcido and John Wilson.

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