South Bay schools defendants get day in court

Felonies dropped against former Southwestern superintendent Chopra

Michael Attanasio, attorney for former Southwestern superintendent Raj Chopra.
  • Michael Attanasio, attorney for former Southwestern superintendent Raj Chopra.

Readiness hearings for Southwestern College, Sweetwater Union High School District, and San Ysidro School District defendants were held October 29 in the South Bay courthouse. Defendants indicted in pay-to-play corruption cases had been ordered to appear by judge Ana Espana.

Prior to the readiness conferences, Yolanda Hernandez, a San Ysidro trustee, pleaded guilty to one perjury misdemeanor. When Hernandez is sentenced, she faces the possibility of being unable to serve in a public office for four years. She will, however, be allowed to serve out the remainder of her current four-year term, which began in November 2010.

The attorney for former Southwestern superintendent Raj Chopra was pleased with the conference outcome. Attorney Michael Attanasio, of Cooley, LLP, stated that two felony counts and several misdemeanors were reduced to a single misdemeanor of failure to disclose gifts on his conflict-of-interest form.

After the hearing, Attanasio stated that “The misdemeanor resolution was based on what was essentially a bookkeeping error. My client will serve no custody, and he will gladly perform some community services.”

After the day’s proceedings, deputy district attorney Leon Schorr commented, “There are only so many of us DA’s and there are a ton of things that we would like to be doing, including this case. I think the judge put it well today, when she said, ‘It’s in the best interest of the defendants and all the community to come to resolution; there’s a great expense that’s on the community, it’s a burden on the community and on everybody, so if we can get to resolutions that are appropriate, then that’s the best.’”

Some attendees worried that the outcome of the October 29 proceedings appeared to be in contrast with statements made by district attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

On January 27, 2012, Dumanis stated in a press conference: “The widespread corruption we uncovered during the investigation of this case is outrageous and shameful. 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 systemic. Today’s charges begin the process of holding those officials accountable for their actions on behalf of those taxpayers who footed the bill for lavish dinners, concert and theater tickets, and much more.”

However, San Diego attorney Kevin Carlin, who has been monitoring the progress of the case, said in an October 30 interview that what happened at yesterday's readiness conferences was to be expected.

Carlin opined, "At this point in the proceedings there will be some inevitable paring of charges and defendants through negotiated plea deals between the District Attorney’s Office and individual defendants. While such negotiated plea deals must be reviewed and approved by the court, they are encouraged to promote efficiency and conserve resources.

"Court approval of individual plea arrangements at this point in the proceedings should not be interpreted as any type of indication of the strength or weakness of the overall case against any of the remaining defendants.”     

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Carlin is full of something odorous. The DA has gone wobbly on these cases, and the judge is mealy-mouthing. It's the judge's job to resolve these cases properly, not sign off to whacks on the wrist. She's had months to get ready and comes across as a whiner. So these pleas are "resolutions that are appropriate", huh? Multiple felony counts pled down to a single misdemeanor with no jail time, no removal from office, and apparently no fine are now "appropriate." Anyone who fails to see this miscarriage as a harbinger of what will happen with the others is just not paying attention.

My anticipation was that few, if any, of these cases would go to trial. Corruption cases seldom go that far. The usual disposition is a plea bargain involving removal or resignation from the elective position, a fine, and in some instances jail time. But here, Chopra skates with one minor misdemeanor plea when he started out with a whopping nine felony counts.

Folks, this is pathetic. Don't expect anything better as they work their way through the rest of the pack of crooks.

How about 2 detentions and a Saturday school. !

And nothing is being done about the blatant disregard and contempt for the teachers, students and taxpayers of this district?


We are fed up with what is being fed to us.

I believe that by the time the wrist slapping is over we will be left with the major players. Sandoval,Gandara,Quionnes and Ricasa. As one of the attorney's said in the last hearing" Can you imagine 15 attorneys questioning each witness for the state". I know this was expected but I feel Chopra was a big disappointment. Hell community service and fines would have at least left an impression. With the pleas at least we will not be paying the legal fees. It's my understanding that each of the big four have paid over 100,000 thousand each so far. This is before trial begins. Sorry but this gives me some sense of relief. These four will never serve in public office ever again the cost to them will be astronomical before this is over Ricasa will definitely lose her job and probably her retirement. Pearl will lose her home unless she Homesteaded it and she maybe forced to get a job to pay for the trial. She already borrowed on the house she has twice. I doubt prison time,but that is still a possibility because the felonies carry a four year term. Let's see who goes to trial.

erupting- even though I was aware of the happenings of the court proceedings seeing it in print and then reading Visduh's comments put me into a 'downer'. However, after a sleepless night, and with the dawn of a new day I SEE THE LIGHT!

Chopra, the person who was so ill he could not attend some of the proceedings, the DA looking to fortify his case - throw the book at an old man or USE the old man (no disrespect to old men, I am married to one) as a witness? Hmmm,,,,,, Now the question, might the same happen on the Sweetwater side of the case, might one of the indicted be offered the carrot of a sweet deal? Might it be the false prophet, the counselor or the teacher who choose to sing like a canary?

While we are aghast at the level of alleged corruption, in truth this is considered a white collar crime. Do you really think Arlie Ricasa is being sent to the big house? Not going to happen. Besides, when I think about it rationally she and her cohorts would continue to rip us off via more tax dollars being used to house her and the others in the big house.

Erupting you are right, the money the ruin of reputations - no more Ms. or Mr. Fillipina, Latina, Latino, Pastor, Republican or Democrat of The Year for this group. All of this awards and plaques they received - not sure if they will get a tax write off for them at Am Vets.

THEY RUINED IT FOR THEMSELVES? Google will forever be the keeper of the truth - try Googling their names.

All one has to do is look at any one of them to see the strain their indictments have had on them personally. WAS IT WORTH IT?

One last thought, the missing Mello funds, is it possible Brand used them to help out his friend Cartmill, or perhaps Ricasa. Absurd you say? Think about it, how would we know? Where did the money go, Brand is not saying, so I thought I would speculate. Remember those couple of months when the PI issue was tabled, what did Brand do? He hired them any way. Let us not forget it was Ed Brand who helped Jim Cartmill out of bankruptcy to the tune of several thousand dollars, and then there were the greenbacks Tom Hassey threw in as well. Talk about a trio - Cartmill, Brand and Hassey -

Chopra's gone, more than likely for good, but does anyone else feel a little uneasy knowing San Ysidro trustee, Yolanda Hernandez, who now admits committing the crime of perjury, might be allowed to remain in a position of power? Who is looking out for the the public's interest here?

Yes, not exactly a ringing endorsement for a public figure. Not someone any student should want to emulate. We need to do better here. We can do better here.

Hopefully the judge, like many of the 'movers and shakers' of San Diego is a Luzzaro follower, if so, she may prohibit Hernandez from attempting to serve again for the next few years.

I still remember Hernandez's comment a few years back, when she served on the SUHSD BOC ( yep a 'gandara' follower she was) - she told the committee and those community members attending she was single, rich, and looking for a husband/man (you had to be there) I wonder how much of her riches were spent on her defense?

Hope all of you get to see the video that is going around of a certain Dr. Bully!

I am trying to see what I can do about it. Don't think I can manage a direct link with facebook.

The quote attributed to the judge is revealing. Sounds as if she's complaining about the workload that these cases will bring. And the quote from the deputy DA sounds about the same. Yet as far as expense and burden go, is there any more important job for the DA and the local courts than to deal with massive corruption?

Many or most of our eastern and mid-western industrial and commercial cities have been mired in corruption for generations. The corrupt regimes that control those cities keep this sort of thing going indefinitely. "Reform" slates of candidates come and go, and the political machines just keep going on. (Oh, what cities do I reference? How about Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Chicago and while we are at it, the entire state of New Jersey.) Once that corruption takes strong root, it just never seems to go away.

Here in the far west, we like to think we've avoided that sort of machine politics. We don't listen to tales of crime families running our city or LA or San Francisco or Portland or Seattle. But east of the Mississippi, corruption in city government is the norm, not the exception.

If this mess in So County is not uprooted with vigor, and now, the same sort of thing could become permanant. The south County is at the tipping point. If this stuff is allowed to go without severe consequences, the corruption will only get worse, much worse.

The judge, who comes across as feeling overworked (a whiner) could actually do something really significant once in her life. She could be the one person who stopped rotten politics in it tracks, uprooted it, and changed the course of local governance. How many of us get the opportunity to do something that sweeping in our lives? It is a chance for her to make use of that judicial power she has, and turn things around.

Handled properly, and with "appropriately" severe punishment, she could send a loud and clear message to any/all local pols who are tempted to do similar things that they had better reconsider. At the least it would clean up the political systems in Chula Vista and and "Nasty" City. But could we hope, just a feeble hope, that it could also rub off in San Diego itself?

These cases are watershed cases, and how they are handled, and how the miscreants are punished has great significance for all of this county, and for the LA/OC/San Bernardino/Riverside region. Time for this judge to stop complaining about expense and to stop fussing about workload and do her job. She is going to deal with a parade of crooks from the public sector, and they need to be kicked out of office, fined, and jailed. When/if that happens, that area "so close to Mexico, so far from heaven" can find its bearings again.

Eastlaker, Would it be possible for you to tell me how to find it. There are several of us that would like to take a look. If what this Anniej person says is true and Jim was loaned money by Ed Brand it is looking pretty bad.

Yes, Ed definitely loaned Jim money a few years back when Jim had some financial difficulties.

How does the "largest public corruption case in the history of San Diego County" go from something over 250 felony and misdemeanor indictments to a single misdemeanor conviction/perp? It was either "the largest," or it was something very much smaller that was being hyped by candidate Dumanis.

Money was misspent, the process was abused, the public was robbed, the system was gamed, all in the name of what? Petty misdemeanors? Since when is accepting a bribe by a public official a petty crime?

The system is broken, and the breakage is in the DA's office. Shame on Bonnie Dumanis, and shame on Leon Schorr. You both might as well have said you don't really give a damn about what happens in the South Bay. Your messages is loud and clear. "Just don't get caught, but if you do... no big deal."

If the video in question is the School Board Meeting video from Otay Ranch KORtv, you can find it on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/77625365

It is a different video, but thanks for posting the one you did.

Visduh, a program manager once likened the way business was done in the South Bay to the wild west. On the other hand I have heard some attorneys in this case argue that the cash giving and the gift giving--(and I assume the attendant vote on contracts)--is the culture, is normal, is the way everybody does it.

I have read all the transcripts. If this is the normal way the people's business is conducted, then the people are not well served.

You make a good point -- Judge Espana is pivotal.

Susan, thanks for the remarks. Lest my comments seem to be treating the So County differently than, say, No County, let me assure all the readers of these comments that I'm not smug about politics in the rest of the county. There is plenty of hanky-panky going on, but those so engaged are smart enough to keep it out of sight and not blatantly parade it in the faces of the voters. The usual fighting in school districts and our community college districts in No County seems to be about competing educational philosophies, the need for facilities, the sort of facilities to be built, and how to deal with the teacher unions. A few really incompetent people have managed to have highly rewarding careers in educational administration and support. But if there is outright corruption, they keep it hidden.

Yes, this judge has the future of those districts in her hands. If she caves or lets the DA cave, this culture of corruption will grow ever larger. If she decides that "enough is enough" and insists that all of them leave their offices, pay significant fines, and may we hope, serve at least a few days in the slammer, there's a chance for "a new birth of freedom."

We need real change, or we risk living in a world of institutional corruption, with all students in perpetuity being shortchanged. This would not bode well for this county...

I think there are some--not you, Visduh--from North County who think corruption down here in the south is ok, because it doesn't touch them. Except...it eventually will. It needs to be eradicated. I am tired of seeing monies that are supposed to be for the students going into Ed Brand's voluminous pockets.

Is everyone aware of the bomb threat that was called in on Oct. 29th to two National City schools, Sweetwater High and Olivewood Elementary?

Here is the link to the short U-T article; the comments are worth reading, as they point out how oddly this was handled:


If anyone reading this has any sort of emergency training, could you please comment on this?

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