Gandara to go on 60-day lobster fast

Former Sweetwater superintendent “earned the right to go to prison.”

Jesus Gandara
  • Jesus Gandara

The Sweetwater Union High School District corruption case crescendoed in the South Bay courthouse on June 27. Former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. He was sentenced to 220 days in custody; 60 of those days will be served in jail and the rest under house arrest. In addition, judge Ana España ordered Gandara to pay a $7994 fine and perform 120 hours of community service.

Gandara pleaded guilty to one charge of felony conspiracy and has admitted to accepting gifts of travel, meals, and event tickets in excess of $4000.

Prior to the sentencing, community members advocated for jail time.

Jaime Mercado

Jaime Mercado

Jaime Mercado, who served as a trustee during Gandara’s tenure, accused Gandara of “corruption, intimidation, and reprisal.” He said Gandara had “earned the right to go to prison.”

Frances Brinkman, one of the people who originally took corruption complaints to the district attorney, applauded all of the unsung heroes who dared to speak out while Gandara was superintendent. Brinkman recited names such as Katy Wright, Tony Alfaro, Diana Carberry, Nancy Stubbs, and more…all people, she asserted, were unjustly fired by Gandara.

Kathleen Cheers, another community member who took corruption complaints to the district attorney, said that the majority of Sweetwater students received subsidized meals.

Cheers said she doubted if many of them “had ever tasted lobster.” She reminded the court of the lobster dinners that Gandara and his family enjoyed, paid for by vendors who worked for Sweetwater.

Jesus Gandara and his lawyer, Paul Pfingst

Jesus Gandara and his lawyer, Paul Pfingst

Attorney Paul Pfingst, who represented Gandara, pointed to Gandara’s remarkable career in education and his “commitment to children.” Pfingst lauded Gandara for getting the voters to pass Proposition O and referred to design awards that Proposition O projects received.

On the other side, deputy district attorney Leon Schorr said Gandara’s story was about “greed and ambition” and that Gandara was “hired into a situation that was ripe for corruption.”

Schorr argued that by punishing Gandara, the judge was warning “every other public official in the county.”

España said she had reviewed the material Pfingst submitted about Gandara’s accomplishments. She referred to his earlier career in Texas, then asked, “What happened along the way?”

España said Gandara “used his power to personally insert himself into negotiations with the contractors who were giving gifts to get jobs.”

Perhaps the tipping point for Gandara’s career came in 2011 when the U-T reported that Gandara hosted a wedding shower for his daughter at Murrietta’s restaurant in Bonita. Former Sweetwater trustees Arlie Ricasa and Jim Cartmill and still-current trustee John McCann attended the party. Vendors doing business with the district were also invited. The shower invitation announced there would be a money tree available for those inclined to pin on some greenery.

In retrospect, some people still wonder how Gandara was selected back in 2006. The district initially paid a headhunter group $30,000 to select him. Then the district paid Ricasa and Cartmill, who have both pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in this corruption case, to travel to Texas to vet Gandara.

The curious things is, Gandara hailed from the same little part of Texas where former Sweetwater superintendent Anthony Trujillo had retreated to after Sweetwater gave him his walking papers — and pension. Trujillo left Sweetwater to become superintendent of a small school district in Ysleta Texas and Gandara served as assistant superintendent there for a while. Gandara even acknowledged Trujillo in his doctoral thesis.

Sweetwater’s current superintendent, Ed Brand, is stepping down in October. Turning toward the future, many are already wondering — how will the new superintendent be vetted?

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While anniej, who normally has ALOT to say, she is choosing instead to lead the comments off with this heartfelt thought:


Two, four, six, eight - who do we appreciate SUSAN, SUSAN, SUSAN!

AMEN to kudos to Susan Luzzaro.

I continue to wonder if Judge Espana has ever articulated that these perps have stolen from the public they are supposed to be serving...she should be representing the community that pays the freight for the schools our children attend.

Judge Espana...wherefor art thou? Who are you for? Let someone know that the public has been damaged by these perps and their selfish acts. They have diminished the public trust that was placed in their hands.

Susan - I'm thinking what needs to happen is voter registration and education like they had to do 50 years ago in the south when intimidation and white ignorance ruled with fear and violence. The win is numbers at a vote, mail in is so easy.

shirley, I think you're right. It would be great if a thousand students came in and helped :-)

Excellent summation of the whole miserable episode. We can only question just where this jerk is going to undergo his six months of house arrest. Will it be in this state, where the court can insure that it is served? Or in the Rio Grand valley of Texas, where he is at home with the local culture and corruption, a most iffy proposition. Oh, and the three weeks of community service. Will that be served in the area of SUHSD, the district that suffered under his abuse, mismanagement, and pocket-stuffing? Or in Texas?

For sure, two months at Bailey or some other local fun spot will take him down a few notches, or at least it should. The main thing I'm taking from all this is that our pathetic excuse of a superior court judge is finally taking a "tough" line on all this. She started down the path of letting it all go as mere technical violations, and now is (horrors!) sending perps to jail. Instead of weeks in the slammer, they should be looking at a number of years in state prison, but whatta' ya' expect?

One can only marvel at how the district just kept making the same mistakes over and over when it hired superintendents. Trujillo, then Brand, then Gandara, now Brand, and the beat goes on. Or will it?

The board paid $30K to find this greaseball of a phony administrator with his Ed Doc from a diploma mill? Those on the board who hired him should face charges of "felony stupid" for what they did, even if no corruption were involved. And then we are treated to Pfaulie Pfingsto referring to "Gandara’s remarkable career in education and his 'commitment to children'”. What is remarkable about that career is that it ever happened. The man is the antithesis of what he claims to be. Just another hack with a degree, a teaching credential, an admin credential, and he says he walks on water. No, he wallows in mud. The more I read and hear of Pfingst, the slimier he gets. He didn't beat the rap for this jerk, and he doesn't keep his clients out of jail. (Well, maybe what should have been a sixty month sentence was only sixty days.) However, he can be counted on to make outrageous comments about his guilty-as-sin clients and proclaim their innocence against all evidence.

I agree that the 'where' Gandara will serve out his house arrest will be most telling. Can't believe any judge, even Espana, would let that be somewhere out-of-state! Recall that Gandara, Sandoval and Ricasa were originally charged with extortion too, but those charges were later dropped on a time-related technicality, I believe, but they were indicted as the extortionists they are. Extortion under official color of office is despicable and these perps are truly despicable.

Gandara is required to serve his house arrest in San Diego county. His probation may be completed in Texas but the house arrest must be done here, according to the judge's ruling.

Yes, Ms. Luzzaro, it is a very curious thing that Soccoro, TX keeps cropping up in the history of Sweetwater miscreants. I had heard that Pearl Quinones was from that area as well. And I also heard some months ago that there was a report of Trujillo working as an educational consultant.

Let's hope that there will be a real search for a new superintendent, as opposed to a pretend search. Let's hope that a reputable group will be in charge of the search--and let us hope that the board is taking this task very seriously.

We have had enough of incompetence and dishonesty. Time for some people who can actually do a good job. Time for some people that the students can look up to, instead of holding the Board in deep contempt. We don't need any further undermining of education here in Sweetwater.

Yes, Judge Espana doesn't really mention the damage to the students, does she? Is she oblivious? Superficial? Simply part of a larger game?

Great title and article, Susan. Thank you for your invaluable reporting through out this quest for justice. Thank you also to the other members of the media and the five community heroes that have worked so diligently for the past four years.

I absolutely agree that this next board election is crucial; we all need to commit to educating the voters of the South Bay so that we can elect members whose only agenda is our kids and the rebuilding of our district. We need a complete audit of the district's finances so that we know what debts we've been saddled with during this dark era of corruption, and we need knowledgeable board members to sift through the mire , clean out any remaining crooks and create a plan to hire new district leaders. Every student in this district has suffered because of the greed and arrogance of our leaders, whether they've been sentenced or still remain in positions of power. Our job is not over yet.

The job won't be over until Brand is gone, gone, gone. He's hanging on, if this board will permit it (and it appears that it will) until Fall. Why is he keeping the job for a few more months when he must know that he's toast? Ego? Or to bury some more skeletons?

We can only dream that in a short time from now, it is Brand sitting in a courtroom being sentenced to confinement, and is then jerked out of his chair and taken off to jail. Sadly, he's probably been sufficiently careful to avoid incriminating himself.

The district, even if it elects a really honest and effective board, will have an arduous task in getting any sort of proper person to take the job. Why take a position that carries all that baggage when you could take a similar spot in a district that has had no scandals and needs little or no repair? Why indeed?

I agree with all that Susan has done a great job on this story. Thank you Susan for continuing to shine the spotlight on this cesspool of corruption when other news outlets would only occasionally report on it. Now the real work begins for our community. Do we really want change here in the South Bay? If so, we need to step it up and start by finding good candidates for Trustee to support. Not ones in it for themselves. We have an uphill battle with this. Our community is so apathetic that it's frustrating. Recent history proves this! Bertha and Pearl re elected while under indictment. John McCann winning the primary! We've got work to do. By the way, rumor has it here in Eastlake that Jim Cartmill will run in November. Amazing if true! The man has no shame!! Come on South Bay, let's wake up!! Keep these slime balls out of office!!!

Have you actually heard that Cartmill is planning on running again? This surprises me greatly, as when I have seen him around town, he does not look at all well.

Susan... you have been amazing. So thankful for all you have accomplished.

Maybe Cartmill is not taking enough of his own vitamin supplements! It would not surprise me if he did run again because after all, he has 'owned' that seat for such a loooooong time and carries the mantle of 'minister'.... He believes his own puffery.

Further, it has always been my belief that Cartmill's personal finances are not terribly ample (remember the loan from Brand? Which is illegal as all get out and might be enough to get Brand hauled before the Grand Jury if the statute of limitations has not run out) and the Board stipend also carries benefits for him and his family, which is certainly worth a lot to someone with shaky personal finances. (Same can be said for McCann who does not seem to have any visible means of support except his military reserve so-called service.)

It's scary to think that Cartmill will run, scarier to think the brain-dead voters might put the dot next to his name, 'cause it's familiar. ANYTHING is possible in that district.

If Cart-run-of-the-mill runs (no pun) again, that would be BEYOND chutzpah, but remember, it isn't so much about "brain-dead" voters as it is about teachers and classified personnel who live OUTSIDE the district and DO NOT vote provisional while in Chula Vista.

You are right, anything is possible in that district. That includes EVERYONE pulling together to help elect an individual with moral integrity, good sense, and who would be a good steward to all members of the Sweetwater community.

Finally some justice. This man ruined my friends lively hood because she didn't do what he wanted. Cartmill will run in the fall because he has no shame! There is an article In the Star News that Bertha Lopez is trying to get her suspended seat back! Don't theses people have any shame?? While she may have ended up doing what was best for the kids it is time for the district to heal and move forward and that means a clean sweep and new blood on the board and a new superintendent. Eastlake people wake up and stop letting Cartmill fool you. He is a slime ball!!! We need to follow the District by-laws and doesn't the state have a rule if convicted of any crime out of public office? If we don't keep these slimes out of office then what lesson was learned?

Although some of them are now gone like Diego "clerical error" Ochoa and Doc Maria "pile of toxic waste" Armstrong, other Gandara-appointees remain like M. Castratilleja.

Why walk away from the table when you still have some cards in the game?

Yup, the Fast Eddy Scheme and Scam Team is still working on their fast break!!

I did happen to read in the Star-News today that Bertha Lopez is going to try and retain her seat on the board. Interestingly, Ed Brand was reported to have written a letter to the judge stating that Bertha should not have that opportunity.

Suffice it to say, I very much doubt if he wrote that same letter for Cartmill.


Because Bertha Lopez is not a member of the Ed Brand Voting Block the way Cartmill is.

Let us remember that there is still work to be done, and that includes getting to the bottom of all the financial and real estate messes in Sweetwater. Fast Eddy wants to reestablish control with a predictable voting block, just like the days of Ricasa, McCann and Cartmill.

Now that Brand only has McCann (and those appointed members who still have insufficient knowledge or will or care to think for themselves), he evidently wants to try for further maneuvering before departing in--October, is it?

Let us hope that more is accomplished, and that Ed Brand Gets What He Wants is a closed book, a dead subject, a road to nowhere, just as it deserves to be.

If Brand wrote any sort of letter to the judge and she paid any attention to it, or worse acted on it, she should be impeached/removed from the bench, posthaste.

By the way, it would be great to see Jaime Mercado back on the board.

Just like to thank Jaime Mercado for his integrity during this bleak time in Sweetwater History. Remember, when others had their hands out, Jaime stood firmly against any form of questionable or corrupt behavior. A few have given Sweetwater a black eye, but many other great educators and leaders remain to help us heal, strengthen, and grow to our true potential.

How about you, Eastlaker? You could sit next to him. You seem to think for yourself, and it would be nice to put a face to your voice as you investigate spending of MelloRoos etc.

By the way, can we start cancelling the $20,000 worth of memberships in all the clubs and groups that Brand has felt is so necessary--when in reality the purpose they serve is to provide more fodder for schemes?

I am sure the money could be far better used on the students.

Paula Meyer - I believe he was brought back to further "deplete" the district

Item A7 on Monday nights agenda seems to indicate that we will only be able to speak on one item per Board Meeting??????????

Further attempt to stifle public input? Depriving us of free speech? This must mean that Ed Brand is feeling the pressure from the public and just doesn't want to deal with it.

Is this legal, or just one more Ed Brand intimidation tactic?

We all know he likes to make the rules up as he goes along...

You would think, now that all eyes are on him, he would at least make a token effort at looking like a reasonable human being--but not Brand!!

Retribution from Ed Brand and John Mc Cann? Anniej, of course it is. See what happens to those who dare to go to the San Diego District Attorney? There is an attempt to silence them.

Can you imagine what the press will do with this? Each and every news organization notified,

First Amendment right refused, OH MY

Brown Act Violation, MY! MY, MY,

Does Randy Ward know, are the County Board folks aware or was there an attempt to slip this by them?

Maybe this is why Ed Brand is asking for 400k more for legal fees.

When exactly is enough enough?


When is enough enough? We are far past "enough"!

I keep thinking about that $500,000 that was given to Gandara when he could have been fired. Could that have been to buy his silence? Did that line of questioning ever take place?

Came on here to read about Jesus and what do I find Ed up to his old tricks. This may just be worth my time to come and watch John sweat bullets as he faces all of those news guys. With any luck Padilla may just take you up on your offer and make this a real affair. We vets don't take too kindly to the Constitution being kicked around. Any chance it will be moved and we can have the whole town attend like we did for Hilltop. Be sure to let is know if it is moved.

Do you know if John McCann has an answer to the question, "Why did the district pay Gandara $500,000 to go away when Gandara could have been fired for cause?"

Because I've been wanting to hear that for a couple of years now.

It is really starting to annoy me that the news media keep saying Gandara was fired! Who is telling them that? Misinformation is not a good thing!!

We all know Gandara should have been fired, and could have been fired--but was NOT fired. But given that tidy sum of half a million dollars instead. Hmmm. What is that all about? It just does not add up.

Wasn't it $400,000? Check the figure and why didn't Espana force him to repay this???

Clarification, it appears all agenda items may be spoken on however you only get 3 minutes for any and ALL you wish to speak on.

So, with over 70 items on the consent agenda,MIT appears Ed Brand and John McCann does not want us speaking on many of them.

In a moment of twisted levity, I happened to wonder what provision Fast Eddy is making regarding the facility for future school board meetings in the various and sundry buildings that the district has purchased. (There are three from which to choose, now, right?)

I am thinking that perhaps he has designated a broom closet as the new board meeting location, as then there would be no room for the public--and I guess all the board members and the various representatives from the departments in the district can all attend via laptop, as Fast Eddy sits in the broom closet/board room running the show.

That would certainly cut down on the annoying participation by the members of the public!

I believe the Brown Act does allow the board to limit the time each speaker has, and to limit the total amount of time per topic. Three minutes is pretty standard, and is about 750 words for the average speaker's pace. It means comments will need to be well organized and to the point quickly.

That said, why not 'divvy up' the comment subjects among the speakers in order to make sure every topic that needs addressing has been spoken to by someone of the speakers. Each speaker can also 'second' the comments of the previous speaker(s) so the board gets an idea of the breadth and depth of the sentiment of the public comment.

Ed Brand and Co continue to show distain and disregard for the public they are supposed to be serving. A public agency led by true leaders would welcome an interested public ... that would also be a sign of having nothing to hide!

Oskidoll - we have 3 minutes for all agendized and non agendized items. There are over 70, some controversial.

I have no problem with 3 minutes per speaker and 20 minutes per item however 3 minutes per board meeting. Whoooooo. Nelly, they are spending millions and I should have the right to comment on those that affect me. That is the intent of the Brown Act.

You are right, of course, anniej....but the board will likely take advantage of their authority to limit the time on public comments. That is the reason I suggested the strategic tactic of dividing up the comment topics among the speakers so every topic is covered by at least one speaker.

Be sure to note in your comments your sentiments above for the record. Perhaps some signage to the effect of 'don't limit my speech" might get the attention of the media and the new board members who would probably prefer not to be embarrassed.

oskidoll - perhaps I am simply dismayed that the County people, the ones we were cheering to hurry up and get here to pull in the reigns of Ed Brand and do what was necessary to keep the District going are allowing themselves to be used.

Unless it is related to priority none of these items should be considered.

Making bylaw changes - really?

This is Brand at his worst, doing what he does best - hopefully the County folks will realize this.

One would think that Brand would want to allow things to settle down and leave quietly. Guess he does not realize what we had decided to simply let go, is now a top priority. He like Gandara will look back on his arrogance and realize as the song sings 'you gotta know when to hold them and know when to fold them'.

McCann is torpedoing his run for office, the press will, no doubt, be all over our new efforts - investigative reporting is helping to expose the ills of government. Then of course there is the judicial system.

McCann's wife is still a big shot within the local Republican Party Money Making machine, isn't she? Any Republicans who feel that Mr. McCann should not get money due to his support of Gandara's and other misdeeds should let their voices be heard. The Republicans don't want to be (publicly) associated with any kind of scanda. And several top speakers commended McCann on his standard running points of military service, etc. They should be told that blind support of such a puppet will not be tolerated.

well said Anniej! I agree that this interim 'caretaker' board should not be considering anything other than what is minimally necessary to keep the District running. Certainly bylaw change should properly await a full new fully-elected board after the November elections. Any major shifts in money, non-essential purchases, etc. should likewise be put on hold. Perhaps THAT is the most important message the interim 'caretaker' board should hear tomorrow.

The infestation still needs to be eradicated.

For anyone who is unable, due to a disability or other circumstances out of their control, but has the desire to be heard on any agenda item I was just advised that they can send an email with their name and the agenda item noted to:

[email protected]

It is my understanding that your email will be read aloud and entered into the record.

A7 is the agenda item I referenced in my earlier comments. But keep in my mind ANY agenda item can be addressed using this procedure.

Please ask that receipt of your email be confirmed.

Gratitude towards the CAVE people cannot be understated. While many of us tried our best to be involved and attend meetings and help with the fight I don't think any of us can even begin to claim to have been so instrumental in making this happen and/or to have put in as many hours as these five AMAZING individuals who truly did not even have a personal dog in the fight other than wanting the best for the young people in the South Bay. So I will say it a million times THANK YOU!

Lobsterlandia, crustacean clawed, An invertebrate inmate-district flawed. Clear the table, empty the trough/ This old gang has chowed enough/ Do the time... History please no repetitions! Children first --not greed & Ambition. People speak their three minutes of truth. Three quorumed votes hand out the loot! Thank you CAVErs, sweetwater Heroes. Saving our district from fiddling Neros!

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