SAN DIEGO – Four current and former public school officials were among those charged Wednesday with accepting tens of thousands of dollars' worth of lavish meals, theater tickets and hotel stays from businesses seeking construction contracts.
"For years, public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multimillion-dollar construction projects. The corruption was nothing short of systematic," said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. A contractor also faces felony counts stemming from the probe of the urban Sweetwater Union High School District.
Authorities said that between 2008 and last year, district officials racked up hundreds of dollars in food and drinks on contractors' tabs, and were given tickets to the Los Angeles Lakers playoffs, Rose Bowl and to concerts and theater. They did not report the gifts.
Administrators and trustees solicited cash for the children's beauty pageants or field trips, authorities said. They received Southwest Airlines tickets and a trip to Napa Valley. Shortly after board members received financial favors, contractors were awarded projects from a $644 million voter-approved bond offering, authorities said.
Former Superintendent Jesus Gandara and board member Greg Sandoval face eight counts of perjury and filing false statements. School board members Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa face four felony counts on the same charges.
Henry Amigable, a construction company executive who worked for Sweetwater and Southwestern College, was charged with bribery and improperly influencing elected officials.
They face between four and seven years in state prison if convicted, the district attorney's office said.
Dumanis said additional charges and defendants were possible, according to U-T San Diego. Based on search warrants served last month, investigators also focused on Southwestern College. The newspaper's reporting sparked the investigation.
Gandara was terminated in June but received a payout of more than $400,000, according to U-T San Diego. His attorney noted that none of the public officials were charged with accepting a bribe and many of the gifts were reimbursed.
Amigable's attorney, Dan Greene, said his activities were sanctioned by his supervisors, the newspaper reported. Quinones attorney, Marc Carlos, said the board member relied on advice from the school district's lawyers.
Ricasa didn't respond to U-T San Diego's requests for comment and Sandoval referred calls to his attorney, who did not respond.