Bribery charges were added Friday against four current and former Sweetwater Union High School District officials allegedly involved in a "pay-for-play" culture with businesses awarded contracts for voter-approved bond projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
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Former Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara, along with trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones and 16-year former board member Greg Sandoval were charged with accepting a bribe. They were originally charged in January with perjury, filing a false document and other counts.
In March, 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 in granting construction contracts.
He is scheduled to be sentenced June 22.
The defendants' attorneys told Judge Michael Smyth Friday that District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' use of the case in political ads -- she is running for mayor of San Diego -- could influence a potential jury pool.
Former District Attorney Paul Pfingst, who represents Gandara, said to the judge, "What we're asking the court to do is to gag the district attorney and stop these ads so we can get a fair trial, if we still can in this county."
Smyth said he was uncomfortable issuing a gag order, as the defense had requested, and set a January preliminary hearing date.
"If the ad is as described, I'm not happy hearing it because I do think that it could potentially jeopardize the progress of the case," said Smyth.
"This is paid advertising directed against our clients in violation of the rules of professional conduct," said Pfingst in court.
With regard to trial publicity, the California Rules of Professional Conduct states:
"A member who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that a reasonable person would expect to be disseminated by means of public communication if the member knows or reasonably should know that it will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter."
"No district attorney in the history of San Diego County has ever run a political ad involving an open case," said Pfingst outside the courtroom.
The Dumanis camp issued the following statement in response to the accusations:
"Bonnie Dumanis' campaign ad is truthful, powerful and effective. We have no plans to change it or stop running it."
The defense attorneys said they will file a motion next week asking to have Dumanis removed from the case.
When the charges were first announced, Dumanis alleged that between 2008 and 2011, the defendants frequented San Diego-area restaurants, spending hundreds of dollars on food and drinks, sometimes more than $1,000 per outing. The defendants were also given Los Angeles Lakers playoff tickets, Rose Bowl tickets and a trip to Napa Valley, she said.
For years, the public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multimillion-dollar construction projects, Dumanis alleged.
If convicted, Gandara, Quinones, Sandoval and Ricasa each face between four and seven years in state prison.
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