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South Bay judge upholds majority of indictments in pay-to-play
New charges were dismissed in three South Bay school districts' alleged pay-to-play charges--the bulk still hold
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
October 10, 2013
Twenty-two charges were dropped for defendants in a South Bay corruption case during hearings held on October 8 and 9. Twenty charges were dropped by the people, as represented by Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr, in a pre-trial paring of 232 indictments handed down by the Grand Jury in January 2013.
The case initially became public when high-ranking school officials, trustees, contractors, and a bond salesman linked to South Bay school districts, had their homes or offices raided by the DA's office in 2011. By December 2012, as a result of a broadening investigation, the Grand Jury charged 15 defendants with charges which included perjury, bribery and filing a false statement.
Most charges relate to alleged pay-to-play activity which involved Sweetwater Union High School District's Proposition O for $644 million and Southwestern College's Proposition R for $389 million.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Judge Ana Espana listened to the defendants' attorneys' arguments for additional dismissals; however, in the majority of cases she remained unconvinced.
After the October 9 hearing Schorr commented, "We are very pleased with the outcome of the hearings. Judge Espana's rulings confirm the hard work of the grand jurors and their desire to hold these defendants accountable for their actions."
Two additional charges were dropped for Sweetwater trustee Pearl Quinones following arguments presented by her attorney Marco Carlos, one perjury count and one count for filing a false instrument.
In an October 9 interview Carlos said the charges were dropped because of insufficient evidence. Carlos feels confident that when his defendant comes before a jury, the jury will understand "that my client was doing what every other elected officials does."
Carlos also believes that the former program manager for both Sweetwater's and Southwestern's bond construction, Henry Amigable, who has provided a lot of the testimony on which the charges are based, will prove to be "a weak witness."
Carlos said, "Amigable's memory is horrible, and on direct testimony before 8 or 9 experienced lawyers he will not be able to stand up."
That all politicians do this kind of wining and dining seemed to be a common argument presented by several attorneys.
Paul Pfingst, attorney for former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara, took issue with the much-publicized lobster dinner that Gandara received--paid for by Amigable. (The lobster was flown in for the occasion and described as "still kicking.")
Pfingst argued that there were no business discussions at the meal and that it was a social occasion and should not be considered bribery.
Schorr countered that the $1,383 dinner at Bacis, which was also attended by Sweetwater's former trustee Greg Sandoval and current trustee Arlie Ricasa, was intentionally lavish to demonstrate "this is how we will take care of you if we are selected."
Schorr also noted that this meal and many others were not disclosed on Gandara's 700 conflict-of-interest form.
Espana did not dismiss the bribery charge. She said that the meal appeared in the context of other meals or events that happened prior to Sweetwater trustees selecting Amigable and his company.
The lobster dinner in question took place in March 2007. The company which Amigable worked for at that time, Gilbane, along with Seville Group Inc. were selected to manage Sweetwater's Proposition O in April 2007.