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Five at Chula Vista school district charged in corruption

Trustees, a former trustee and a former superintendent are accused of receiving thousands of dollars in restaurant meals, airline tickets and admission to sporting events from a contractor.

January 05, 2012|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announces the filing of multiple felony charges against current and former school district officials with taking bribes to award hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of construction contracts, during a news conference.
San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announces the filing of multiple… (Eduardo Contreras / AP Photo )

Reporting from San Diego -- Corruption charges were announced Wednesday against two trustees of a suburban school district, a former trustee, a former superintendent and a building contractor in what San Diego County Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis called a "pay for play" culture involving contracts for school construction projects.

"The widespread corruption we uncovered during our investigation of this case is outrageous and shameful," Dumanis said in announcing 26 charges against the five defendants.

Charged were Sweetwater Union High School Trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones, former Trustee Greg Sandoval, former Supt. Jesus Gandara and contractor Henry Amigable.

Amigable allegedly provided school officials with thousands of dollars in restaurant meals, airline tickets, and admission to a Rose Bowl game, the Los Angeles Lakers playoffs, concerts and theater performances. Some of the officials solicited cash for their children's beauty pageants and field trips, according to the charges.

The charges include bribery, perjury, filing a false statement and influencing an elected official.

In exchange for the favors, the board members allegedly voted to award contracts to firms associated with Amigable. The money came from a $644-million bond issue approved by voters in the sprawling district in 2006.

"The corruption was nothing short of systemic," Dumanis said.

The case represents the largest set of public corruption charges brought during Dumanis' tenure as district attorney since six former San Diego pension board members were charged in 2005 with conflict of interest.

The California Supreme Court dismissed the charges against five defendants in 2010 and Dumanis dropped the case against the sixth.

The Sweetwater district, which is centered in Chula Vista, has 14 high schools and 11 middle schools in Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, San Ysidro and National City. The district has 42,000 students and an additional 32,000 in adult education classes.

Gandara, who was fired in June, is represented by Paul Pfingst, a two-term district attorney defeated for reelection by Dumanis in 2002.

Pfingst said the case seems to be built largely on unreported gifts, with each gift serving as the basis for more than one charge. He said that in awarding building contracts, no single official was in a position to make a unilateral decision.

Contracts were made after reviews of bids by various committees and citizens groups, Pfingst said. "It was a very open and transparent process, with lots of input," he said.

tony.perry@latimes.com

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