SAN DIEGO (CNS/News 8) - Charges were filed today against five people -- including the ex-superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District, school board trustees and a contractor who worked for the district -- in what prosecutors called the largest public corruption case of its kind in San Diego County.
Charged with bribery, perjury and other charges were former SUHSD Superintendent Jesus Gandara, trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones, 16-year former board member Greg Sandoval and Henry Amigable, a contractor who worked for a construction company hired by the school district.
All were allegedly involved in a "pay-for-play" culture with businesses that were awarded contracts for voter-approved bond projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars, said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
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, Dumanis said. The defendants were also given Los Angeles Lakers playoff tickets, Rose Bowl tickets and a trip to Napa Valley, she said.
The county's top prosecutor said the investigation has been going on for a year.
"The widespread corruption we uncovered during our investigation of this case is outrageous and shameful," Dumanis said. "For years, public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multimillion-dollar construction projects. The corruption was nothing short of systemic."
Gandara, Sandoval, Quinones and Ricasa are charged with perjury, filing a false document and other charges. Amigable is charged with giving or offering a bribe.
All defendants will be arraigned Jan. 13 at the downtown courthouse. If convicted, they face between four and seven years in state prison.
Wednesday afternoon, the current superintendent of the Sweetwater district said that the accused board members, at this point, are allowed to conduct business as usual.
"I strongly believe every one is presumed innocent until proven guilty," said Dr. Edward Brand.
In the meantime, community members who initially blew the whistle on this alleged corruption scheme called for the charged board members to step down from office.
"The board has lost the trust of this community," said district parent Stewart Payne, "and will not gain it back any time soon."
"I think it's probably going to go a lot deeper, and reach to levels in Sacramento before it's over," added retired teacher Fran Brinkman.