Documents hint at Sweetwater board’s diners’ club

High school student investigated 10 years ago

Ed Brand
  • Ed Brand

The latest round of indictments handed down by San Diego’s criminal grand jury is so extensive, people wonder if corruption is just another name for South Bay. Fifteen defendants from three separate South Bay school districts, a construction company CEO, and a bond financier face 256 charges.

In the case of the Sweetwater Union High School District board, four current trustees — James Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quiñones, Arlie Ricasa, and former trustee Gregorio Sandoval — will be arraigned on charges on January 30. The district’s former superintendent Jesus Gandara will also be arraigned on that day.

By now many people have read about the lavish meals South Bay trustees and school administrators enjoyed at the contractor’s expense. Given what we know about Sweetwater in particular, maybe it’s time to ask if dining out is endemic to the district culture.

Well before he was indicted, the U-T was reporting on former superintendent Gandara’s dining habits. According to a May 2011 article, Gandara, before having his district credit card yanked, “had charged more than 300 meals to taxpayers over three years, even though his contract paid him $800 a month for expenses.”

The same article tells us: “Some $12,560 was charged to Gandara's district credit card for 366 meals from November 2007 to March 16, when he stopped using it.

“The most common meal partners for Gandara were members of the school board, who took part in 238 of the meals.

“Trustee Arlie Ricasa dined with the superintendent 92 times, followed by trustee Pearl Quiñones at 49 times. Former trustee Greg Sandoval met with Gandara 41 times, according to the records, while trustee Jim Cartmill met with him 38 times and Bertha Lopez met with him 11 times.

“Newly appointed board member John McCann appears seven times, including once as a Chula Vista councilman before his job on the school board.”

Gandara justified his use of the credit card by saying that without it “community members would have to come to the district office for coffee or water instead of being treated to restaurants.”

Many people in the South Bay wonder why taxpayers pay for administrative offices that are not the setting for business meetings — whether with trustees or contractors.

But Gandara did not invent the fine art of dining out.

In 2002, a Sweetwater student began investigating the district. Gordon Siu was a reporter for his Bonita Vista High School paper. In a January 9 interview, Siu, a 2010 Yale graduate, said he began to get a sense that the district administration “was doing things the wrong way.” It appeared to Siu that “the trend was that these officials were more concerned with making themselves look good than they were with education.”

Before Siu graduated from Bonita Vista in ’06, he put in two public record requests: one for then-superintendent Ed Brand’s calendar and the other for Brand’s credit card receipts spanning 2000–2003. (Brand was superintendent of Sweetwater from 1995–2005. He returned to Sweetwater on the heels of Gandara’s buyout in June 2011.)

When he received the record, Siu was taken aback when he saw that Brand ate out almost every day and sometimes twice a day. Siu wondered: “When did he have time for students and teachers?”

Looking at the South Bay scandal today, Siu commented, “I tried to tell everyone years ago what was going on.”

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Out of the mouth of babes as the saying goes. Here is a past student that was aware of the culture of Sweetwater way before any of us. Wow this article is a real eye opener. Brand was feeding at the trough long before Gandara came and longer. Someone told me that he also bought his rental car that we supplied him for the time he was with us at a generous discount. Does anyone know about this? Glad to hear from you Susan Luzzaro.

Perhaps NOW the County Board/Office of Education might pay attention? 15 indictments, including at least 3 for extortion, should certainly bring the South County education establishment messes to the attention of the body that is supposed to oversee operations, especially fiscal matters, of the school districts in their jurisdiction. The next meeting of the COE will feature the seating of the new representative from District 2, Lyn Nealon. It will be Wednesday, January 23 at 6 p.m. Perhaps she will be more responsive to matters in South County than the prior representative.

By the way, I see an interesting entry in Brand's old calendar: a meeting with Sandoval and Rudy Castruita, the former CEO of the CBOE. Castruita now pulls down a handsome STRS pension in his retirement, perhaps the highest in the entire county. Seems that Dr. Granger Ward, his successor, should be doing something for his pay.

These districts need a permanent chaperone from the DA office to oversee activities. Still corruption at SWC. Just look at the Prop R oversight committee : mostly political friends of the board members that make political contributions and have a stake in the contracting decisions. The "new" trustees at SWC are just as bad as the old; handing out favors and contracts to political allies.

Susan, we have missed you. When one round of new indictments was announced, I expected a report and there was none. Then the following day five more were indicted, and I was sure you would report. Hope you are back and on the job doing what you do so well, keeping us up to date on this ongoing scandal.

Jlbaro: Off topic, but in Ms. Luzzaro's absence I was trolling thru some of her old articles and found I had missed a reply you made to me regarding one of the board members. PLEASE KNOW, my comments were not aimed at you. I was speaking of someone else.

Ms. LUZZARRO: When the South Bay thinks of reporting the news The Reader and you are what we think of. Not sure where you went, hopefully you were having fun, but hip hip hooray YOU ARE BACK!!!!!!!

Eating is not the only thing that brand and "the gandara" have/had in common. It appears that brand has under estimated the resolve of those pesky "antagonists" resolve. They are learning much about many, many things.

Yes Mr. Siu, Brand has consistently focused on "other things" he considers more important than the 7-12th graders. Lets see we had the Funds for Education fiasco (a throw back to the Pepsi Cola deal), the charter ELEMENTARY school (why would anyone trust him to educate their elementary s hool aged child when he is failing to give our 7th-12th graders all of the resources they need to be educated), and most recently the Christian college deal ( perhaps Brand is not aware of the law regarding separation of church and state).

Too bad more were not paying attention to your excellent investigative work back then, maybe if we had, Brand would not be back again, sucking the life out of our District!!!!!

PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO REVIEW THE PDF ATTACHED TO THIS STORY - you will not believe what you are reading AND I am not simply talking about the food. Focus in on the auto related charges.

Rumor has it that Brand had an RV at the time- maybe he still does. Allegedly that RV had work done it using district resources. I see a charge here from a company that works on RV's; also I am seeing a HUGE gas bill for one day. Folks back then no one was paying what we are paying for gas now, so why the huge bill?

Am I getting a sense that this is not smelling like roses. Oh, you betcha!!!!!!!!!

The conclusion would be that he filled up the RV on the public's dime.

With all those meals, it's a pity he didn't have a methane conversion system, because he could have powered his own vehicles...

One of the more notable features of Brand, the former PE teacher at Orange Glen High, was his girth, as in obesity. He seems to have slimmed down some in recent months, if the photos we now see of him are current. But for a guy who started out as a sports coach and fitness guru, he sure fell off the wagon. Could all of that eating in restaurants on the expense account a decade or more ago explain the weight gain?

So Bay was never a hotbed of haute cuisine, so maybe that wasn't Brand's downfall. More likely was that "the tortillas an' beans, they taste so good!"

Visduh: Now, now, we have fine culinary establishments down here. Just ask Cartmill, Ricasa, Sandoval, Gandara, And Quinones. While Lopez did attend a few, once she realized there was a price for being part of the "group" and the price was not about leadership she showed up, stood up and spoke up. Why didn't McCann, his voting record (see board docs) well he was one of the 4 in the constant 4 to 1 vote. Lopez, was the 1.

Apologies. I accidentally hit "flag for removal" when I was trying to view the reply. Site manager: please ignore that flag.

Ed Brand, greedy and gluttonous, who'd have thought? Yep, Fast Eddy always goes back for more...and the Sweetwater (majority) Board just goes right along. Textbook definition of "self-serving"--and while the documentation of all those meals may not be the most egregious part of the story, it does provide an easy metaphor for 'he who will not be sated'.

And timtim, still haranguing against Bertha Lopez, the one who dares to speak against 'he who will not be sated'? Why exactly are you so offended by her?

Is it perhaps because she has strength of character and the decency to actually try and do a good job as a trustee of Sweetwater, rather than just toadying for Brand? (Aka "the Gaping Maw", aka 'he who will not be sated', aka "Fast Eddy", aka "the Last of the Red-Hot Takers", aka "the All-Consuming Beast").

(And BTW, now we know why he stipulated in his recent contract that he get health coverage but would not have to have a physical...because he wouldn't have passed the physical. Guess his schedule did not indicate any time at the gym).

East laker: Your post reminds me of all of those promises made in so many living rooms by John McCann, remember, he was going to clean the district up. Guess he got side tracked after his alleged meetings with Alvey and others BEFORE he was elected. Guess he liked what he heard and saw nothing wrong with what he observed. Regarding Lopez, SHE AT LEAST HAS VOTED ON BEHALF OF THE STUDENTS AND TAXPAYERS. What has Mccann done? Not a da** thing but promote McCann and attempt to get a permanent restraining order on a well respected member of the group named "the antagonists" -AND WE HAD TO PAY FOR HIS LAYWER about 9 grand worth.

Which reminds of a conversation I had with one of the many complaining administrators "the guy hands me a three page bio and expects me to bore the people in the stands with his bs". " I could not believe it". My reply "and he wonders why we refer to him as 'little man who wants to be king'?

so so right...one of his favorite quotes is "I don't bring you the MOJO but I will leave you with the MOFO".

Tim Tim: What you see nothing wrong with our tax dollars being spent like this? Shame on you!!!!!!!! What about the rest of you? You included JOHNNY boy, you ate right along with them, or did you forget that fact?

Mr. McCann has stated that he " only took 2 dinners and 1 coke ". That is the moment I knew his election was a big mistake.

Jlbaro: Hmmmm, only 2 dinners and a coke???????? Perhaps he might explain why the contractors that plead guilty in the case donated to his campaign so heavily, and helped him pay off his campaign debt?

Can Tim Tim explain the flight on New Years Eve to Vegas? Is there a statute of limitations on this? Is there an attorney in the house? Oh silly me, the DA's office is working on the alleged corruption in our district.

"people wonder if corruption is just another name for South Bay"... no doubt about it. now, will lawyers get them a little slap on the wrist... probably so.

Mngcornala: SIMPLY CAN NOT HAPPEN!!!!!!!!!! This group has got to go, not telling them where to go (even though I would like to) just get away from our children's educational funds. Brand, so far not indicted.

Tim Tim, Wow. Lopez, along with 14 others, share over 230 indictments, and you complain that a reporter took the time to investigate a story back to roots in the past, showing a history of entitlement and corruption? Such attempts of distraction remind me of recent board meetings, where certain board members dodged and evaded the issue of adding campaign contribution limitations to an ethics policy. Such limitations that could very easily prevented this whole fiasco. They only looked at how they could force the vote through, or later spent the time arguing whether one recused themselves or abstained.

Although Bertha does have those indictments, she had the courage and character to go to the D.A. and fess up to her deeds, before the D.A. stepped in. The others apparently don't see anything wrong with what they did.

By the way, thank you Susan, for once again bringing such information to light.

Dbdriver: You Sir have just wrapped this matter up AND put a pretty bow on it. If I could have given you 10 thumbs up I would have.

The anti-Brand people are mostly union activists.

Is he perfect? No. Is he as onerous as Lopez, Ricasa, Quiñones, et al? No way.

Schools don't exist for the the staff. They exist for the students.

Schools don't exist for the the staff. They exist for the students.

Hahhahahahaha...is this a joke, or are you serious??? The schools exist and are for the benefit of the TEACHERS FIRST, everyone else second. Has always been that way since the CTA rose to power in the late 1970's after Jerry brown allowed them to unionize, and there is a direct correlation between the rise of the teacher unions and the decline in student test scores and achievement.


Surf Puppy: would like to preface my comment with the fact that I have never belonged to a Union. Having said that, Sweetwater has set itself up as a real indicator as to WHY UNIONS ARE NEEDED. Not to say that Unions do not have their faults, they do, and I take exception with some things I.e. protection of bad educators. I have witnessed the tyrannical reign of "the gandara" and now Brand over employees of the SW district. It has been the teachers, bus drivers, librarians, nurses and others who have waved the cautionary flag that our students are not receiving adequate resources. All the while Brand, "the gandara" and members of the board have feasted off of our hard earned educational tax dollars. As a side note, I know how much a good teacher is worth - a hell of a lot more than they are getting. My issue is this, all of these bond measures, tax increases we are voting in, they are not being spent on education. By the looks of this article they are being spent on the wanna b's. They wanna be something but truth of the matter is they - -!

Annie, SUHSD is an anomaly. They are the exception to the rule in public employment, especially teaching. You are 100% correct, the SUHSD teachers needed a union, but only b/c the admin was corrupted.

I scrolled down the entire the credit card record. It's amazing how often taxpayers' dollars bought so many meals, many quite expensive. Granted, this goes back some years, but to understand how so many could have been caught up in this "culture", you have to trace back to the roots of the problem. It's pretty clear that Brand shall we say, set the table. Very important information in this article. Thank you, Susan and the Reader.

Stores: with all do respect NO the concerned tax payers commenting on this board - maybe 1% work for the district. Now back to the article, comment on the expense reports, compare them to the calendar. What do you have to say about how Brand spent our hard earned tax dollars? This is a VERY SERIOUS SITUATION! VERY SERIOUS. This community will not be led astray by smoke and mirrors. The PDF's this young man provided, they are DISTRICT DOCUMENTS!!!!!!!!! READ THE AND WEEP AS WE ARE!!!!!!!

OMG! So glad you are back, Susan Luzzaro. Your voice in the South Bay is invaluable to those of us who want to know the hard facts. Thank you, Susan and The READER.

Gordon Siu, we must admit, was a remarkable student and journalist and continues to contribute to the community. He has his own website which contains other pieces of journalism related to the school district which may interest those who follow the subject. Thanks for your work, Gordon

Some of the brightest kids in the county go to SUHSD schools, I know b/c I taught them. Gordon is certainly one of them, and near the top for sure.

I would also like to say a warm thank you to all of those who have welcomed me back, and to those who comment though don't necessarily welcome me back. Comments are always good and genuine dialogue is useful.

I will try my best to follow up on all the tips that have been coming through the website. Thank you for those as well.

May we all have a Happy New Year.

SurfPuppy: no doubt mentors like yourself were inspirational for his quest to unveil the truth, no matter how ugly. This story should remind us all, sooner or later all things come full circle. Mr. Sui stands as a living, breathing inspiration to us all. This day I forwarded this story to all of the younger generation in my family - I want them to read and understand the importance of standing up for what is right.

I am in the process of itemizing the expense reports in the attached PDF's. I have downloaded and printed the appropriate monthly calendars for the years in question. I am also researching some of the names of the businesses that Brand used OUR TAX DOLLARS FOR.

A cursory review has done much to enrage me. Brand it appears feasted on the backs of our students. You want to talk about sickening, he starts his morning off at 7 Eleven- coffee and a donut(s) - then proceeds to travel down the coast to the south bay and eats breakfast, lunch and freakin dinner ON OUR DIME!!!!!

I am seeing a charge here for continuing education? What we paid to educate this man? Too bad one of the courses was not on ethics. Ladies and gentlemen, these documents are a reflection of the real Ed Brand - a man so trifling he refused to pay for his own cup of morning coffee at 7 Eleven.

We had/have educators and teachers in debt many thousands of dollars due to their continuing education, we have SW employees taking furlough days - all for the betterment of the kids ------- yet here we sit reading with our own eyes the greed of our superintendent. Tim Tim do not poke the tigress by identifying that these expenses go back a few years as THE BEST PREDICTOR OF PRESENT BEHAVIOR IS PAST BEHAVIOR!!!!!!!!

John McCann, you said you were going to clean up this district -you failed! It is the common citizen who started this ball rolling, it is the DA's office who is left to do what we should have done many years ago DRIVE THEM OUT. Now Mr. McCann put forth a motion DEMAND BRAND RESIGN.

No doubt few, if any, will ever look at Brand the same - BRAND IS AN IMPOSTER!!!!!! It has never been about the kids, it has always been about BRAND.

I believe you when you say Brand is an imposter. I think we need to get a copy of whatever he wrote for his PhD dissertation and run it through one of the programs that scans for plagiarism. I have always doubted his academic bona fides, as he simply never struck me as one who had the rigor to obtain a real doctorate. (Same goes for Gandara, but we know Trujillo coached him through it).

Yes the pattern of excessive consumption has been there for quite some time.

I guess it is little wonder that when it comes to getting cooperation from those who work in the district office, they act as though they are doing the public a favor if they deign to answer their phones. Heaven help you if you actually need them to do something in a timely manner.

Go anniej!!

eastlaker, you are onto something when you mention Brand's academic credentials, but you have missed the mark in part. Brand doesn't have a PhD at all. He has an EdD, commonly called an "ed doc" and that is something else entirely. Many, many of these career administrators now have them, and they earn them while fully employed. The dirty little secret is that they are easy to earn if you want to pay the fees and tuition, and spend some time in classes. Not too long ago, a couple local institutions announced they were establishing a joint local ed doc program for employed administrators, and that the program was designed to get them the degree in three years. Say what? Three years of part-time study and they are granted a degree that is supposed to be the general equivalent of a PhD? That's the deal. Some of them actually earn a degree from a university that is hundreds or thousands of miles distant, and may make only token appearances on campus. Northern Arizona University (jokingly known as "Flagstaff Tech") has a number of its EdD recipients here in San Diego County. The most any of them could have ever done was spend a few weeks on campus during the summer, and where they would find the time to do the research and writing for a rigorous dissertation, is a complete mystery. Oh, and don't forget that they claim to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week while school is in session. Any time you see that honorific "Dr." in front of the name of a school principal or assistant principal, district bureaucrat, or superintendent, remind yourself that he or she is very unlikely to be carrying anything like a PhD in an academic discipline. That is the case with Brand, Gandara, and a host of other local supes.

Thank you for that very complete explication. I'd still like to know what Brand is an "expert" in, outside of gaming the system...a bit more exposure of the "poseur" would be ideal!

You are most welcome. Yes, it would be interesting to know just what his specialty is, and what he did for a dissertation. With some digging, it should be available, just as Gandara's was revealed. I'm too lazy at this point to do the digging.

Visduh: I too Thank You, not sure if you have reviewed the PDF expense reports however there are charges that when researched appear to be for continuing education... Looks like you have given more reason to distrust brand, as if we did not ha e enough.

Eastlake: I have often stated it is important to remember "they have bills to pay and mortgages to make" - I get that. It is easy for me to expect every single ee of SW to come forward with what they know, yes, easy for me to say because I am not the one with a job on the line. Having said that it is important to give credit to those who have come forward and spoken to the authorities, those who provided information. They are heroes, they understand in order to bring about change one must be willing to ACT!!!!!! Please note when I say spoke to the authorities I am NOT speaking of those who were summoned by the Grand Jury, let us not forget Cartmill, Brand, McCann were summoned and we all know they are part of the broken engine that run SW. No I am talking about those who, day in, and day perform stupendously. They are not part of the inner circle, nor do they want to be.

I want to clarify that I respect the Grand Jury, no doubt they fail to realize that they have helped to uncover illegal activity that is affecting many state wide. They have helped to expose alleged corruption which, I have no doubt will be proven in a court of law. When the last sentence is handed down the South Bay needs to invest in a sky writer that will fly over City Hall "THANK YOU DA's OFFICE, THANK YOU GRAND JURY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

When the heads begin to roll and the sentences are handed out and Brand is gone - all of those who stood by and did nothing because they were part of Brand and "the gandara's" inner circle will find themselves gone, outta here, hasta la vista baby (hope I spelled that right). They are known, and they are less than respected.

Interesting how anniej like to defend crooks like Quiñones, Lopez and Ricasa.

Buddies of yours?

Stores: perhaps you are not aware and so I will attempt to define my position. If you had attended any board meetings in the past almost 4 years then you would know Sir/Ms that I have NEVER defended either Ricasa or Quinones. For verification ask Quinones yourself, as a matter of fact she refers to me with an adjective that rhymes with ditch and it AIN'T WITCH. Ricasa, I have no doubt she would not be RSVP ing any dinner party I would host.

Regarding Lopez, I do not defend Ms. Lopez, but what I do do is applaud her efforts and her votes on behalf of the students and taxpayers. I have supported her and did vote for her. Might I recommend that you either begin to attend the board meetings and observe the voting patterns for yourself - 4 - 1; with Lopez being the 1 or if unable to attend I recommend listening to the board meetings on line. Are you aware that she went to the DA about the same time that the "antagonists" did', you know the "antagonists" also went to the FBI? Do you know who the "antagonists" are?

It would help your credibility a bit if you educated yourself on what you speak, check my past posts for verification.

Well put anniej I read your posts and find them very informative and very entertaining as well.

Hey wow, I think this timtim sounds like McCann or Grossman two Republicans pouting because they didn't get their way in the elections. This McCann fellow had the same opportunity to go to the DA as Ms. Lopez but he didn't and based on his voting history both on the CV City Counsel and this board and his total melt downs caught on tape I am surprised he hasn't been charged yet.

Just really pisses me off that greedy people control the money that should be for the kids. They are getting ripped off right and left for sports and extra curricular activities because there is "no money" in the budget but none of these numnut board members can control their "appetite". POLITICIANS SUCK!!!!!

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