SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The case against more than a dozen current and former South County school officials accused of accepting gifts in exchange for votes on construction contracts was properly assigned to the South Bay courthouse because that's where most of alleged crimes occurred, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Timothy Walsh affirmed the decision he made last month to transfer the case to South County, denying a motion by the District Attorney's Office to bring it back to the downtown San Diego courthouse.
"I believe the venue is most appropriate in South County," the judge said.
Deputy District Attorney Gary Schons argued unsuccessfully that the case was properly filed downtown and that the alleged corruption by school officials occurred all over San Diego County.
Schons also argued that the South County courthouse doesn't have the facilities to handle such a case.
But Walsh said the alleged crimes happened while most of the defendants were acting as South Bay public officials.
Among the 15 defendants charged in two indictments are current and former officials from the Sweetwater Union High School and San Ysidro school districts and the Southwestern Community College District.
Former Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Jesus Gandara, along with former trustees Greg Sandoval and current board members Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones, were charged a year ago and have each pleaded not guilty to bribery, perjury and other counts in connection with the alleged "pay-for-play" scheme. Each faces between four and seven years in state prison if convicted.
Also charged in indictments handed down last month are current Sweetwater board members James Cartmill and Bertha Lopez, as well as San Ysidro School District Superintendent Manuel Paul and former Southwestern College Superintendent and President Raj Chopra.
Cartmill, Lopez, Paul and Chopra also are charged with bribery, perjury and other counts.
Most of the defendants are expected to be arraigned Feb. 15.
For years, the public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes -- trips, fancy dinners -- in exchange for their votes on multimillion-dollar construction projects, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis alleges.
In March of last year, construction company executive Henry Amigable admitted a misdemeanor charge that he provided gifts, meals and tickets for entertainment events to district officials to influence the school board's decisions on construction contracts.