Not guilty pleas in Sweetwater corruption case - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Not guilty pleas in Sweetwater corruption case

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CHULA VISTA (CBS 8) - More than a dozen defendants pleaded not guilty Friday in a wide-ranging corruption case in the South Bay.

The felony indictment charges 15 officials from the Sweetwater High School District, the San Ysidro School District and the Southwestern Community College District.

They are accused of participating in a pay-to-play scheme to award government construction contracts in exchange for gifts and favors.

Former Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Jesus Gandara, former trustee Greg Sandoval and current board members Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones were charged more than a year ago 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 in December 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.

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 alleged.

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. He was sentenced to three years probation.

Friday, the judge also ruled more than 4,000 pages of grand jury transcripts in the case may be unsealed in 30 days. A jury trial has been set for February 18, 2014.

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