Arraignments postponed for South Bay school officials in corruption case

DA wants case moved from South Bay to downtown

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Arraignments for more than a dozen current and former South Bay school officials accused of accepting gifts in exchange for votes on construction contracts were postponed Wednesday pending a decision on where the case will be heard.

Fourteen of the 15 defendants appeared in a Chula Vista courtroom for what was supposed to be an arraignment, but Judge Stephanie Sontag delayed the arraignment until the court can hear a motion filed by San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to move the case back to downtown San Diego.

A hearing is scheduled Feb. 6 regarding Dumanis' request. A judge last week signed an order transferring the case to the South Bay. The defendants' arraignments were rescheduled to Feb. 15.

Former Southwestern College Superintendent Superintendant and President Raj Chopra was not in court for Wednesday's hearing.

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 Chopra, current Sweetwater board members James Cartmill and Bertha Lopez, as well as San Ysidro School District Superintendent Manuel Paul.
Cartmill, Lopez, Paul and Chopra also are charged with bribery, perjury and other counts.

Gary Cabello, Jeffrey Flores, Yolanda Hernandez, Nicholas Alioto, Jorge Dominguez, Yolanda Salcido and John Wilson were also charged.

For years, the public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes -- trips, fancy dinners at places like Donovan's and Fleming's, costing more than $1,000 -- 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.

Wednesday's hearing took longer than usual to get started because of the packed courtroom. Many observers were kicked out because of the lack of space.

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