Sweetwater District board member Pearl Quinones pleads guilty in corruption case

SAN DIEGO - A Sweetwater Union High School District board member indicted in a public corruption case pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony conspiracy charge and a misdemeanor count of accepting gifts above the state limit.

Pearl Quinones, 61, is scheduled to be sentenced April 28. As a result of her felony conviction, Quinones will have to give up her school board position, officials said.

South Bay Judge Ana Espana said she will consider reducing the felony conviction to a misdemeanor once Quinones has successfully completed probation, according to Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr.

Schorr said Quinones pleaded guilty to one felony count -- "conspiracy to commit a crime, specifically the acceptance by any member of the governing board of any valuable thing, with corrupt intent."

Additionally, she pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of "accepting gifts with a total value of more than $250," according to Schorr.

She also could be fined up to $10,000. Her punishment may include jail time, home confinement and probation.

A district spokesperson told 10News Quinones will have to resign her board seat, but attorneys for the district are trying to figure out if she has to resign immediately or resign when she is sentenced.

When she leaves office, two of the five school board seats will be vacant. Former board member Arlie Ricasa resigned in December 2013 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to the case.

Quinones was one of 15 people indicted in 2012 in a probe into a "pay for play" culture between contractors and officials from three school districts.

Quinones, ex-Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Jesus Gandara, former trustee Greg Sandoval and Ricasa were charged in connection with the scheme. Also charged in indictments were board members James Cartmill and Bertha Lopez, as well as San Ysidro School District Superintendent Manuel Paul and former Southwestern College Superintendent and President Raj Chopra. Cartmill, Lopez, Paul and Chopra were also charged with bribery, perjury and other counts.

"We're going to go all the way through this and we're going to win. We're going to fight and we're going to win this case because I'm innocent," Quinones said after an April 2013 hearing.

When the case was filed, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis alleged that for years, public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes -- trips, dinners and tickets -- in exchange for their votes on multimillion-dollar construction projects.

Construction company executive Henry Amigable pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for providing gifts to school board members to influence their votes. A number of other defendants have also pleaded guilty.

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