Former South Bay schools officials have day in court

Sweetwater and Southwestern administrators make pleas in corruption cases

Judge Ana Espana
  • Judge Ana Espana

On December 6, readiness conferences began in the South Bay courthouse at 1:30 p.m. and lasted until 4:00. All of the Sweetwater Union High School District and Southwestern College defendants appeared in court with the exception Jeff Flores, former program manager for Southwestern’s Proposition R.

Judge Ana España issued a $25,000 bench warrant for Flores.

In those brief hours on Friday — as attorneys scurried between the judge’s chambers and the clients in the courthouse hallways — deals were hammered out for Southwestern College’s remaining defendants.

Former Southwestern superintendent Raj Chopra pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in October.

Former Southwestern trustee Yolanda Salcido pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor on count 48, perjury in relation to her 700 form. Sentencing was set for April 22, 2014, and Salcido faces a fine of up to $5000.

Former Southwestern vice president Nicholas Alioto pleaded guilty to one felony count, penal code 32. Alioto admitted to aiding former Proposition R program manager Henry Amigable to commit a felony by accepting a thing of value and failing to report it on his 700 form. Alioto will be sentenced on January 7.

The former facilities manager at Southwestern, John Wilson, also pleaded guilty to one felony, penal code 32, and will also be sentenced on January 7.

Both Alioto and Wilson face the possibility of a $10,000 fine and three years in a state prison. However, in pleading guilty, the court will consider alternatives to custody.

Earlier in the day on December 6, former Southwestern College trustee Jorge Dominguez pleaded guilty to a felony. In a related case, former superintendent Manuel Paul pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

Next Friday, again at 1:30, all of the Sweetwater defendants will return to the South Bay courthouse for a continuation of their readiness hearings.

Courtroom locker talk suggests that the Sweetwater hearings will look much the same as the Southwestern hearings: a sprinkling of felonies, a handful of misdemeanors, and a stage swept clean.

Deputy district attorney Leon Schorr said in a December 7 email: “As to remaining defendants we have a further date for readiness on the 13th and a trial date confirmed for the 18th of February for any and all that we are unable to resolve.”

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Let us consider the MILLIONS of bond tax dollars that were played with by this group.

Let us consider the members of the community who voted for and trusted these people to look after our students and after our tax dollars.

Let us consider that members of this community, our neighbors, who stood before these people and attempted to alert them to the truth.

Now let us consider the number of times they left those board meetings, allegedly met up for food and beverages and reveled amongst themselves at all they had gained.


Ensenadamaria - from your mouth to the judges ear.

I hope the judge makes an example of the Sweetwater defendants. Our almost prostrate district cannot survive another round of corrupt self-serving leaders. This judge needs to send a clear message to all of the crooks and greedy wanna be players that they cannot continue to use our kids with impunity. God help us all if the judge shows any compassion or ambiguity in dealing with these monsters for they are symbols of the culture of corruption in the South Bay that must be dealt with severely so that we never face this type of sinister influence again. (Thank you Robert H. Jackson.)

This is "going down" as I expected: no trial, and copping a plea to a single count, regardless of the number of counts charged. That this judge, after stalling for almost a year so that she could "study" the evidence, is letting Manny Paul off with a misdemeanor tells me all I need to know.

Those of you who hoped that the full force of the law would come down on these jerks are justifiably disappointed. The only worse thing would have been that the DA settled for misdemeanors in all the cases. Oh, they can get three years in the slammer. But they won't. Take that to the bank.

This judge is NOT going to make an example of anyone, and neither is the DA. They will get plenty of compassion and ambiguity when they are taken in the back room and paddled with a ruler and fined a few hundred or thousand dollars (which may never actually be paid.)

Susan quotes "Courtroom locker talk suggests that the Sweetwater hearings will look much the same as the Southwestern hearings: a sprinkling of felonies, a handful of misdemeanors, and a stage swept clean." I'd say that pretty well describes it all.

If anyone thinks that careers in school administration are ruined by these pleas and sentences (whatever they might be), think again. These jerks could soon show up in the employ of more border-area school districts in Imperial County or in neighboring states. Do any of them lose their retirements as a result of these pleas? Nope, nada, nein.

Finally, if you're hoping for removal of all four charged Sweetwater trustees, you had better lower your expectations. It may turn out that none of them are convicted of felonies, and hence can stay in office. As I've said before, the reform of that district must come at the ballot box, and after the most recent election, that is chancy at best.

The week wasn't a good one for justice in San Diego County. Tuite beat the rap, and will soon be out on the streets acting befuddled (like the sly fox that he is). Now this. A sad week.

Jim has been unable to do what needs to be done and is now regarded as week and possibly corrupt. John McCann did get rid of Jesus Gaandara. If McCann is named new board president maybe he will fire corrupt superintendent number 2 and be praised for doing what he promised to do out of the gate clean up Sweetwater. He then could write his own political ticket.

Oldchulares,don't hold your breath. Johnny boy is as corrupt as they come. He was in bed with Gandara, Ricasa and the contractors when he was campaigning for the board.Just look at his financial statements in the registrar's office.You give him too much credit. He saw that the Gandara ship was sinking fast and the rat jumped out claiming that he sank it.

As a District employee I probably should not comment. They have probably on to me right? What is sad about this and I have read those Grand Jury Transcripts is that the real BIG criminal sits up there on the dais and never elected. The Board members are alleged to have taken bribes. It hurt us by by allowing them to take advantage of their position for personal gain. In the context of hurting this District's students it may actually be small. However, Dr. Brand has hurt the lives of thousands of students by creating a toxic environment within this District and its employees. I am not fronting for the Union. I am just saying the real crime is these Board members allow this evil man to continue.

Well tomorrow is the day of the Immaculate Conception. If there was a Turd that was created by God without food it was Ed Brand. Right now he is a Floater. At the top of the toilet. With enough evidence, an IRS Audit?, State Audit, somebody is going to find something against him. He will then become a sinker and we can flush him down the toilet of corrupt bureaucrats and failed educators.

San Diego has always been at peace with its corruption.

Scary happenings in Judge Espana's court for sure. Felonies dropped to misdemeanors for some of the heavier hitters. I was shocked. This community has suffered enough. Arlie,Pearl,Gandara and Sandoval are next, the rest of the heavy hitters. I'm scared. I was hoping for heavier penalties. I guess it does pay to play. If Pearl and Arlie don't get their way we will be stuck with them until after a lengthly trial and they will probably get the same punishment. They saw what happen to the SWC people and that has emboldened them. Well as the saying goes it ain't over til the fat lady sings.

Wish I knew how to galvanize the public...too bad there seems to be a bizarrely complicitous rendering of the judicial process.

I guess "the right people" must be happy with stealing from all the students, who aren't in a position to fight for themselves.

While I had hoped for better, and am still hoping, I am wondering just what it will take to get to the bottom of all the sickening corruption.

Why did the Al Alt firing story completely disappear? Is Brand paying him off to remain silent? I did think that it was a calculated move on the part of Brand to hire Mr. Alt, as he had a history of some irregularities. My guess is that Brand thought Alt would do exactly as he was told, just in order to keep a job, as Alt has a young family to support. So if Alt decided he couldn't put up with Brand's schemes/double set of books/real estate fraud/outright stealing from Mello-Roos/name your poisonous and nefarious activity, and Brand therefore fired him, wouldn't it make sense to find out what Mr. Alt has to say?

The fact that the former mayor of Chula Vista has a very fat salary that comes out of the funds for the children's programs so lauded by Arne Duncan...and that her actual day to day contribution to the children has been questioned, yet no answers have been forthcoming...leads me to think that both the south bay Democrats and Republicans are happy with the status quo.

So if all the politicians really like the way things are going, with up to 100 million gone missing from Mello-Roos and the Teachers' Retirement Fund (borrowed 10 some years ago and never repaid--and sort of quietly dropped from all the books, as I have been told), it makes me almost physically ill to think that they would do this to a constituency that is hard-working and trying to build a better future for their families. Way to show dominance!

No wonder these behind the scenes 'geniuses' are trying to promote John McCann--because he will never give them a moment's pause before doing exactly what he is told.

This Christmas, all I want is some truth, some honesty, some legal process that doesn't actually bring waves of nausea--because the stink from Sweetwater's administration and board is getting close to all-pervasive.

Maybe the judge can't/won't see criminal behavior in people who pretend to be all about education. Criminal minds can appear in any profession.

erupting - the Pollyanna in me refuses to believe that good will not win out over bad.

The students of this District and the taxpayers have been disrespected ENOUGH. How dare these individuals USE their Board positions as they have allegedly done - how dare students education fall to last on the list - with real estate deals, special promotions, raises for fair haired employees, consultants, new District Office building, and DEFICIT spending taking precedence.

As I have gone on record and stated I would not relish ANY of this group going to prison. I mean why would I want to see my tax dollars spent on housing them. I personally understand the pain one brings down on a family when they commit a crime - the family becomes a victim in reality. What I do want are FELONIES, not a slap on the hand MISDEMEANORS, what I do want are LARGE FINES - but what I most want is for them to go away, far, far away, where they can wallow in their pretend stories of 'I did nothing wrong'. Where Ms. Ricasa can shed her tears over the firing of 'the gandara' as she did the night he was terminated.

In their heart of hearts have any of them in the silence of their own minds EVER admitted to SELF the truth, that what they allowed to occur was wrong, only they know.

When Ricasa and Quinones hopefully plead guilty to a felony next week two seats will open. The majority AS A WHOLE must agree on their replacements - I see a deal being calculated by Ed Brand, the puppeteer. Most likely it began a couple of weeks ago when he was seen playing tennis with Cartmill. "OK here is the deal, we will tell Lopez to give us -, if we give her - ". I trust Lopez will continue to stand with the students and tax payers when she makes her decision. Tread carefully deal makers, seekers of the seats, We have become experts at shining light where darkness births corruption,

Two very qualified candidates have ran but lost out to contractor monies - George Cameron and Karen Janney - now, IF we were dealing with a Board who was focused on restoring credibility to the Board these two choices would accomplish the task in bringing trust and support back to our Board.

Yesterday I was asked 'so what are you going to do with all of your spare time now'? My response 'oh CONTRAR, the puppet master remains, ALL of his alleged (gotta say alleged you know) questionable acts that have occurred - well ----------.

And, Jim, Arlie, Pearl and John when Ed tells you I am bluffing and 'they got nothing' - hmmmm remember 'the gandara' remember when he and Bonny Garcia said the same exact thing.

Let us remember too that the Secretary of Education is under fire. Did you all take time to DEMAND a Federal Investigation? The story has been picked up, stay tuned.

Lets see double jeopardy would not apply with new DATA now would it?

No erupting the fat lady has not sung YET, but she is warming up them there vocal cords.

anniej, while you are most kind to not want these crooks to go to prison, I do. Do they deserve it? I don't really know, but I do know that if this stuff is ever going to be stopped in Sweetwater, So County, or around the state, board members need to know that when they lie, cheat, take bribes, and double deal, they can actually GO TO PRISON. So, this judge, whose conduct so far doesn't inspire any confidence in me, can make examples of them. The system needs examples of folks who have violated their trust and actually ended up serving time. And that is real time for Pearl and Arlei, not a few days in the local women's jail, but a trip to Chowchilla.

Has Bonnie Dumanis taken into account that STUDENTS WHO ARE ACTIVELY INVOLVED in our District are watching? Students who have written about it and reported on it. What message are these 'deals' sending them the future leaders of this great country? What message is it sending future law breakers?

Bonnie Dumanis - WILL THE PUBLIC BE ALLOWED TO MAKE AN IMPACT STATEMENT AT THE SENTENCING?????? I would like to volunteer to have my statement be heard.


Oh! Wow what a good idea,I'd love to give a brief impact statement anniej. Brilliant the problem is the court would be busy for days if people were allowed to speak. I imagine that the press will be there this time since they know what's happening. What happened to San Diego's largest corruption case quote Ms. Dumanis. Maybe that's why the DA wanted the case downtown?

Visduh - I understand your frustration with the situation, but, all I can't help but be concerned about their children, their mothers and their fathers - they too like our students and taxpayers are victims.

Zorro - Sweetwater is to John McCann's political future what kryptonite is to Superman.

Add Ed Brand to McCann's baggage and what you have is employment at Wal Mart as a 'greeter' for Mr. McCann - 'hello, welcome to WalMart - may I share my Iraq stories with you while you fetch your basket'.

Of course, it would be dandy if all the accused were convicted of all counts of felonies they face and do jail time. The reality is that ONE felony conviction is enough to remove the elected officials from office, and I think that is a remarkably wonderful goal, which will be an important first step to seating a new board that is responsible and respects the public it is supposed to serve. I would love to see the perps in sack cloth, ashes, and publicly flogged, but that just will not happen. I have heard, and believe, that 'Revenge is sweetest when served up cold." Think what it will be for them not to have the curried favor of being among the 'elite' on the dias and not to be able to order folks around 'just because'.

By the way, I think it is a terrific idea to allow the public to address the court at the sentencing hearings. The public trust has been violated many times over. Go for it!

Thinking out loud here. For the past few board meetings one Board members affect and responses caught my attention. Does anyone know if the public has the right to ask for verification that a Board member is ABLE to serve? If so, what steps might one take. Asking in hopes of saving time and energy.

anniej.....check out the Ed Code section 3072 regarding removal of an elected official from office....one of the ways it can happen is with 'an adjudication of a 'quo warranto' proceeding declaring that the incumbent is physically or mentally incapitated due to disease, illness or accident ...."

It is my understanding that 'quo warranto' proceedings must be authorized by the State's Attorney General and that they are not very frequent, but it might be worth a try.

By the way, the same code also states that an elected official is subject to removal from office with the 'conviction (with a trial court judgment) of a felony, or of any offense involving a violation of his or her official duties. Seems to me that a misdemeanor qualifies as an 'offense involving a violation of ....official duties.'

Oskidoll - ThankYou for the information.

It is clear Brand is running our school district. Last nights events regarding the new property purchase has the community in an uproar.

Last month we listened when we were told our District was operating in a deficit. We are hearing $10 million. For Ms. Ricasa to state publicly 'while I have reservations I am going to move to approve' (paraphrase, listen to the tape it will shock you) - and THEN for John McCann, alleged self labeled fiscal conservative to 2nd the motion - I think this one issue sums it all up. Brands will be done -

Did I hear correctly, did Brand state a three year contract with employees was an integral part of the finances for the new District office? Does that mean the money they are saving on cutting the Districts percentage of employee benefits AND attempting to freeze employee pay for three years is all for a new building????? Please correct me if I am wrong.

Who will be Brands choices for the new seat? Rumors are flying - would you want to be labeled as 'Brands choice'? Perhaps if you - -.

IRS audits done on a regular basis on Bond funds - that is what I recall Mr. Calhoun answering. According to my call to the IRS this am - well that appears to be in error. You know when researching issues and auditing public funs wouldn't we all agree that any/all information pertaining to the issue be considered? Me too?

We are hearing the District is looking to float a new bond - they are going to 'spin' it is all about technology - let us start now alerting ALL - NO MORE BOND MEASURES UNTIL BRAND IS GONE!!!!!!!! !

There will be much more to follow from me. I am a District friend of WTFEd. I am in the know. You have been forewarned.

Anniej - yes I

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would be kind - not to the unkind.

If the injury has occurred, stop feeling sorry for the perpetrator - he/she should have thought about their family. The felonious should due penalties like every body else.

As expected by me at least another group of the South Bay indictees have taken pleas!

From today's UT Article; The most serious charges were admitted by former Southwestern Vice President Nicholas Alioto, former board member Jorge Dominguez and former college administrator John Wilson. They each pleaded guilty to a felony charge of being an accessory to a crime... ....The trio admitted they knew Amigable was trying to bribe them but concealed it and tried to help him avoid detection by not reporting the items on their economic disclosure forms.

This just goes to show us that they have lied and held on to the belief that this would just go away when they made their original pleas of "Not Guilty" Last year.

The arrogance of these people to "Know" what was going on and continue to conceal it from the public for nearly a year, all while other indictees continued to work in positions that allowed them to make policy and financial positions, this is inexcusable!!!

I consider this additional "aiding and abetting" of hopefully to be convicted felons, hiding the truth behind "Court Procedure"

Annother issue, also from the UT article is:

...The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison, but the plea agreements entered Friday say that Superior Court Judge Ana Espana will consider alternatives to jail time and will consider reducing the felony charges to misdemeanors.

We need to ensure that SC Judge Espana does not reduce these sentences to misdemeanors, this is to ensure that the punishment keeps these liars and thieves out of public office and hopefully paid public service. As for jail or fines it is less relevant to me that they would accomplish anything useful.

These pleas while OK by the criminal justice system have a way of diminishing the charges and the actions of the court so far at least have done nothing to show it is not OK to exploit the people and public trust of the postions held by all elected officials in the San Diego Region.

Judge Espana, at a minimum these people must be shown the door and kept away from the elected office, the Felony convictions or even misdemeanors with the stipulation of ineligability to hold public office must be ruled and enforced.

As stated above, These people are criminals if not of violent crimes at least criminals to the public trust of our government bodies, especially of our much needed education system in the San Diego South Bay.


This is playing out, as I've mentioned previously, just about the way all corruption cases play out (except for Bell.) They plead guilty to a single count, and all the others are dismissed. The real key here is how the judge handles this. Probation isn't going to send any sort of message to board members throughout the state, and may not send any message at all except that if you do get caught, it "ain't no big deal." This pit of self-dealing is one of the worst, I think, in state history, and if it ends not with a bang, but a whimper, the damage done to the notion that elected office is for service and not self aggrandizement will suffer greatly. She's the one who will determine how history regards these cases, and it will be making history. With all the time she took to review evidence, she should be personally sickened and outraged by the conduct, and be itching to put them in the slammer. That is, unless she's part of the same "culture" that led to all this crime.

What about the finances of Sweetwater. For about the last 10 - 12 years, Sweetwater was handling their own finances. Then we heard last spring that the county B of E was indicating Sweetwater would have to 'return to the fold'. Presumably that was in response to the enormous and mysterious chaos, complete with real estate deals that are still murky...and was about the only thing the county B of E has lifted a finger to take care of.

But do we really know if all this took place?

Can we find out what is going on with all the real estate deals? Can we find out who is benefitting financially from brokering the deals? Can we find out if Ed Brand's fingers are in all the pies?

Very little information has been given to the public.

I can't imagine that any responsible, clear-thinking and capable public representative would be satisfied with the sort of behavior that is commonplace with Ed Brand and the toady trustees who back him up. Either they are completely incapable of functional, rational thought, or they have been bought off. There is no other explanation for this type of decision-making and behavior. They are the worst of the worst, and show no remorse. They need to be punished.

Not knowing what exactly the function of the SD County Office of Education and it's responsibility, where does it stand on issues in District 2, the district Sweetwater Union High school District is in? I have attempted to contact the District 2 Board Representative, Lyn Neylon, multiple times, never to recieve any response. Again not knowing the function of the esteemed group of elected officials, what do we need them for? Who is watching the Henhouse? BBQ

To be fair I recieved a return call from Dr. Lyn Neylon this afternoon and had a nice talk with her.

The upshot is that the County Office of Education is aware of the goings on at the Sweetwater district, unfortunately there is not much they can do until a couple of things happen, First the convictions come through and there is no longer enough board members to have a quorum, at that point the county board appoints interium Board Members. Please note this only happens if there is no longer a Quorum on the Sweetwater Board.

Again if the Indictees juggle the system in a certain way and all do not recieve sentencing at the same time and say 2 are still on the board when the first two are sentanced, they still hold the selection of replacements. We need to inform Judge Espana of this possibility so the penalties fit the crimes. I certainly do not want McCann and two soon to be convicted Board members to select their own replacements.

The only othertime the County Board steps in is when a District has two failing audits in a row, at that point they put in an overseer of the district financials, Like currently in San Ysidro. Sweetwater has not had a bad financial review yet, but I think it's comming. Best info, BBQ

Following the trials or pleas, is there any chance of a civil case being brought against the convicted? 

Good info BBQ. It is my understanding that the County Board is to appoint one or more of their own members to fill any vacancies in the SuHSD board to make a quorum should it happen that there are multiple vacancies at once. Happy to hear you finally received a response from Nealon, who should be a point person on this issue. Where has she been? With regard to the disappointing results and rulings from Judge Espana: I do hope that she can recognize the impact of the assaults on the SUHSD by the remaining perps, and perhaps will count the MULTIPLE counts they have against them in making more substantial rulings in their cases. So far she disappoints with regard to the extent of the crimes against the public and the public trust. Perhaps a letter campaign will remind her that her trial case workload should be a secondary concern when it comes to maintaining the public trust. The remaining perps have more than 20 counts EACH of potential felony crimes on their dockets. WE are watching, Judge Espana! You may not want to try so many cases, but you have had sufficient time to manage the docket and we do expect that you will perform your duties on behalf of those you serve (that would be us...the public.)

Sweetwater residents and voters might remember that judges do stand for reelection every few years. If this judge "wimps out" as many fear she will, her job could be in serious jeopardy. That is, unless she plans to retire with a generous pension, at the end of this term. In that case you can only appeal to her sense of justice and hope that she isn't just one of the same sort who committed these crimes.

Joepublic- while I have gone on record stating I would not relish jail time. After Monday nights meeting and the votes cast in favor of the new building and financial report - full steam ahead. We will NOT tolerate another L street fiasco inder the reign of Ed Brand or the votes of Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa and John McCann.

How dare Arlie Ricasa and John McCann publicly state reservations and then turn around and join Jim Cartmill in voting for it.

SHAME! SHAME! SHAME! How dare you snub your fiduciary responsibilities to the students and taxpayers. Don't put those attorney business cards away, not yet!

And PLEASE, if ANYONE dare to attempt to convince me that John McCann is a fiscal conservative I will remind them of this vote. Mr. McCann you really SHOULD HAVE done your research, but who am I kidding you have joined the list of pawns on Brands chess board and it is going to come back and bite you where the good Lord split you, in the backside

This board meeting will remain a viable record of the financial mess this District is in and why. The only board member to consistently speak out in favor of the students and taxpayers has been Bertha Lopez for at least 41/2 years - let us remember she told them NOT TO DO IT!

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