SAN DIEGO–District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis today announced criminal charges against five defendants in a wide-ranging public corruption case involving Sweetwater Union High School District School Board members, the former district superintendent and a South Bay contractor—all of whom were involved in a “pay-for-play” culture with businesses that were awarded voter-approved bond projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The case is believed to be the largest of its kind in San Diego County.
“The widespread corruption we uncovered during our investigation of this case is outrageous and shameful,” said DA Dumanis. “For years, public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multi-million dollar construction projects.
The corruption was nothing short of systemic. Today’s charges begin the process of holding those officials accountable for their actions on behalf of the taxpayers, who footed the bill for lavish dinners, concert and theater tickets, and much more.”
Defendants charged include former Sweetwater Union High School Superintendent Jesus Gandara; school board trustees Arlie Ricasa, Pearl Quiñones, and former 16-year board member Greg Sandoval. Also charged is Henry Amigable, a contractor who worked for a construction company hired by the school district.
Felony charges include bribery, perjury, filing a false instrument, influencing an elected official and obtaining a thing of value to influence a member of a legislative body.
Additional misdemeanor charges include wrongful influence. If convicted of the charges, defendants face between four and seven years in state prison, as well as fines.
The defendants from the school district, who were entrusted with making decisions on behalf of the best interests of students and schools, received tens of thousands of dollars worth of meals, tickets and hotel stays from construction companies vying for voter-approved bond projects. Shortly after board members received financial favors, they approved contracts with the contractors for bond projects stemming from Sweetwater’s $644 million Proposition O.
Between 2008 and 2011, the defendants frequented San Diego-area restaurants with Amigable and others racking up hundreds of dollars in food and drinks at a time, in some cases reaching more than $1,000 per outing. Defendants were given Los Angeles Lakers playoff tickets,