Luaus, dinners and limo rides: South Bay corruption grand jury testimony released

Some portions redacted

SAN DIEGO - Grand jury testimony was released Tuesday in a case that claims public officials took bribes in South Bay in the form of dinners, limousine rides, concerts and luaus, in exchange for votes on bond construction work.

More than 4,000 pages of testimony from several witnesses paint a picture of how prosecutors say business worked between contractors and public officials.

Team 10 reviewed a small portion, including testimony from Henry Amigable, a former construction company executive at the Gilbane Building Company. He made a plea deal with prosecutors last year and currently is on probation.

Fifteen defendants are named in the case, and all say they are innocent. The trial begins next year.

Testimony: Henry Amigable

Amigable said there was never a question about who would pay for outings and meetings between him and Sweetwater Union High School District officials. The meetings were rarely held in a business environment.

"They were expecting vendors to take them out. It wasn't in any way, shape or form a quid pro quo, you know, that I would pay for your meal if you paid for my meal the next time," Amigable said.

"It was, if you want business at ... South Bay, you know, you are going to get to meet me, and you are going to end up paying for my meal," he said.

Meals weren't the only thing Amigable said he gave Sweetwater district board members.

In an email referenced in testimony from June, 2009, Amigable said he requested tickets from his company for former school board member Greg Sandoval. The tickets were for an Angels and Yankees game.

Initially, Amigable implied he was to go with Sandoval, Sandoval's wife Imelda, and his nephew. But that changed.

 "I remember telling Greg that they could use my ticket. I didn't attend that game," Amigable said.

In another portion of Amigable's testimony, he talked about going out to dinner with Sandoval to discuss a "deal" with board member Bertha Lopez.

"We have four votes to get back into Sweetwater if we have Bertha," testimony reads.

When prosecutors asked who the other three favorable votes would come from, Amigable said Sandoval, and board members Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones.

"But Pearl was still in my mind a wild card, because you just never know with Pearl," Amigable said.

There also was a dinner, show and limo ride for Sandoval, according to testimony.

On July 18, 2009, Amigable said he picked up a $325 dinner tab at Baci's for four people -- himself and his wife, Sandoval and his wife.

After dinner that same night, Amigable said he paid for four concert tickets to "Il Divo" and a limo ride to the show. Two concert tickets cost $179, and two others cost $159.

"I gave Greg the better seats," Amigable said. "So the ones that cost less is where my wife and I sat and Greg sat at the better seats."

There was great tension that developed between Sandoval and former superintendent Jesus Gandara, Amigable said.

"When I first met them, were essentially tied to the hip. They always did everything together," Amigable said. "Eventually they had a falling out and I couldn't do anything with Dr. Gandara and Greg at the same time anymore, because Dr. Gandara didn't want to spend time with Greg, and Greg didn't want to spend time with Dr. Gandara. So then it became a whole taking out Gandara, taking out Greg, then taking the other board members separately because no one liked each other on the board at that time."

Felony charges of offering a bribe and obtaining a thing of value to influence a member of a legislative body were dismissed against Amigable last year, in exchange for his guilty plea to a misdemeanor count and cooperation with investigators. He had initially pleaded not guilty.

Amigable has previously said he did not know he was doing anything wrong by offering public officials gifts in exchange for business.

In his testimony, he stated the rationale he used for securing projects.

"A lot of guys are going to be on a project together for over two years, and that guy you are going to spend two years of your life with on a project better be somebody you can get along with," he said.

Testimony: Jamie Ortiz

Another portion of testimony reviewed by Team 10 was by Jamie Ortiz, of Seville Group, Inc. Ortiz managed the bond construction project worth $644 million. He is not charged.

He recalled meeting Sandoval for the first time.

"There was a luau at a hotel near Pacific Beach that looks into the ocean and he wanted to know if my wife and I wanted to go with him," Ortiz said. "So we said yes. And I was in LA and I remember I flew from LA to San Diego."

Ortiz said his company paid for the luau outing for himself, his wife, along with Sandoval and Sandoval's wife. He added the luau happened close to the time of the selection of Seville to work on the bond project.

Ortiz said outings were suggested by board members or the former superintendent.

"Let's go out here and let's do this," Ortiz said. "It was an opportunity to build that relationship and continue building that relationship."

He was asked how often the outings happened.

"I think Greg stayed constant for the most part throughout his tenure on the board, perhaps gradually increased as it went along, but for the most part it was just perpetual. The superintendent was constant as well," Ortiz said. He added Ricasa was sporadic and Quinones was "pretty intense" at times.

He said outings were paid for by the company. "It was clear that it was expected for us to pay," Ortiz said. "That's the way it was."

Portions of grand jury testimony were not released until they are redacted. Those portions should be available next month.

the 15 defendants include current and former officials from the San Ysidro and Sweetwater school districts and the Southwestern Community College District.

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