IB Resident Denise Ducheny Wants to Represent 51st Congressional District

Courtesy of Denis Ducheny

Imperial Beach voters will be a part of California’s 51st Congressional District after November elections. As an immigration attorney, she said immigration and border issues are a big part of why she wants voters to send her to Washington.

While watching the sunset at IB’s Portwood Pier Plaza, Denise Moreno Ducheny spoke with IB Patch about her recent decision to run for Congress.

With a long history in San Diego County serving six years in the California State Assembly and eight years in the California State Senate, she now has set her eyes set on the 51st Congressional District.

Congressman Bob Filner currently holds the seat but he is running for mayor of San Diego. The California Citizens Redistricting Committee ruled last year to add IB to the district which will now span the entire California-Mexico border.

With a March filing deadline, only two others have announced candidacy: Senator Juan Vargas andJohn L. Brooks II.

Vargas received 72 percent of votes cast to secure the California Democratic Party’s endorsement at its Jan. 21 regional conference.

Life in Imperial Beach

Ducheny came to San Diego County from Los Angeles with her husband after graduating from law school in 1979 and opened a law office in Logan Heights. Friends in the area and bringing her cats to the Imperial Beach Pet Hospital began her ties with IB.

“Imperial Beach was always the place to go to when it was too hot and my husband likes to fish,” she said. “At that time we just knew a few folks down here and had a small connection.”

The Duchenys would purchase and remodel a second home close to the beach as a place to get away and have friends visit. Two years ago, they rented their other house and began to call Imperial Beach home.

“I love living down here,” she said. “I love being able to walk out my door and smell the beach. I do not like the days when I am unable to get out and see my beach when I think I should be enjoying it every day. I live right here.”

Ducheny left public office in December 2010 and said she was looking forward to “a less stressful life” after politics but people urged her to run to represent the district which now spans the entire California-Mexico border.

“It has all the issues you care about: the border, communities like Imperial Beach, National City, the Imperial Valley and constituents need what you offered at the state level at the federal level as well.”

Practicing immigration, family and criminal law in for 15 years Logan Heights is part of her motivation to run for Congress.

“As dysfunctional as I think Congress is now and as daunting as it is to think about the flights back east, our community needs to be represented,” she said. “We all have to take some responsibility. I have a lot of experience now as a legislator that I can take with me and help our district have a voice there.”

The border economy, cross-border environmental issues and immigration are some of the key issues Ducheny said she wants to address if she is elected to Congress.

Border Wait Times A Priority

SANDAG study released in 2005 found that for every 45 minutes waiting at the border the state loses approximately $1.3 billion in annual revenue. At the South County Economic Development Council 21st Annual Economic Summit held in September, estimates now indicate that for every hour waiting to cross the border, $7 billion in annual California revenue is lost.

“This applies to them all, but especially San Ysidro,” Ducheny said. “I have been working with that project since I first started the assembly. I just found out at a recent meeting that the first phase is funded, but not the second. I think that is part of the economic mess we are in.”

“What government ought to be doing is that type of infrastructure,” she said. “That investment would help us create jobs, move goods, up sales tax and all of those things. Calexico is the same. Just do it. It can’t be that difficult compared to what they spend on Iraq, and whatever else.”

Immigration Reform, The Dream Act and Cross-border Workforce

Ducheny said she tends to have a more expansionist view of comprehensive immigration reform and wishes the rhetoric could change and people could see the issue for what it is.

“We have always acknowledged that before and that is what this country was built on,” Ducheny said. “The only people that are native to this country are Native Americans and we pretty well almost wiped them out. Everyone else is an immigrant in one form or another. We have to go back to those values and acknowledge that we are a country of immigrants and that is why we have prospered.”

“I think it’s a good thing for the economy having immigrants come through,” she said. “They are entrepreneurial. They are those young people in schools studying engineering, so you don’t have to import engineers out of China or Australia. We should be training all the kids at Mar Vista to be those engineers that they need at Qualcomm, not importing them from other countries.”

She said looking at immigration that involves families, waiting 10 years to reunite does not work.

“Personally I have a different kind of view,” she said. “The quota system needs revisiting and needs to be more realistic. Quotas were marked by hemisphere and not so strictly by country. Mexico gets the same number as some country in Europe. That is never going to work here. If this is who we are, where we live and where our families are, you have to have some way of acknowledging that.”

“Being in the middle of the world economics of Canada and Mexico I do not see anything wrong with having a special relationship with them when it comes to immigration,” Ducheny said. “It is not discriminatory, it is reality based.”

The idea that you are going to deport people working in the United States who aren’t committing crimes so someone else can take that job does not make sense, she said.

“They are here and they are working,” she said. “That means that they are contributing to the economy by definition now. You don’t want to upset that part of the economy. My agricultural folks in Imperial County will tell you to ‘let us have our workforce. Let us make sure our workforce can cross.'”

“One of the anomalies with the current strict policy is you wind up with more undocumented immigrants working here all the time because they are not allowed to go back and forth for seasonal jobs,” Ducheny said. “I know some of the growers in North County that use the current temporary worker system that is very convoluted and difficult. That needs streamlining. We have to find a way to give these people the ability to cross. What happens when you tell them you can’t go back when they come in is that they just don’t leave.”

The fears of another 9/11 are real, she said, but a secure border does not have to mean an inefficient or clogged border. Steps have to be taken to catch biohazards and drugs, but people still need to go back and forth to spend money, work or visit family.

“And those families, The Dream Act need to be addressed. These children grew up here,” she said. “They have no other country. When we are investing in education, why would we give away what we are doing? They are effectively citizens that were technically born somewhere else and brought to this country when they were three.”

Working with these cases in her law career, she said laws are stricter now and public officials do not have the “flex” to intervene in these cases as in the past. But, she said there are things that can be done with current laws to make it much simpler.

“The truth is there are a lot of families and there is work,” she said. “Work visas now are cumbersome and hard to get. We are always bringing in nurses, engineers and investors. If you have about $500,000, you can get a visa if you say you are going to invest in a company here. It needs to be looked at as a whole and there is no perfect answer, but we need to be serious about it and acknowledge it is about the flow of labor and workforces and families.”

“People that get in a boat, or walk 100 miles to try to get a better life, those are the people you want in this country,” she said. “You want to get rid of exploited labor and offer fair wages and labor standards. If you put those in place and you actually enforce them against the underground economy, it takes away the percentage of the undocumented workers. To restart these conversations is one of the reasons I chose to continue in political office.”

The Prison System

Ducheny said if prisons aren’t overcrowded, savings could be invested in schools. She said she fights for parole courts for the minor offenders and does not mean just to let prisoners out.

“Once you are paroled out of the state prison you become a community-based person and then the issue is getting jobs and having supervision,” she said. “In the drug court models where you have the attorneys, the parole officers and the judge is like a case management system.

They need a job, they might need anger management, mental health or drug rehabilitation. But, that takes a lot of investment on this end to save money over here. It helps them from going back and forth in the prison system and helps them from reoffending. Every study shows that if you get an education, you take a community college course while in prison, or get vocational training of some sort that you can get a job with when you get out, you are less likely to reoffend.”

“Unfortunately, with recent cuts we have cut back on many of these programs,” she said. “We need to have that financial support for these programs to make it work. It only works if you have those support systems in place. This county is better than most on how they approach this. We may be one of the model counties that make this work.

The federal system is having the same problems. They put away people for possession of marijuana. Federal prisons are for the drug cartels and hard criminals, not the neighborhood drug user.”

The Occupy Movement

Ducheny said the Occupy movement has gotten people thinking about economic equality

She called the trends of a shrinking middle class and the rich getting richer over the past decades disturbing.

“These few people are doing very well and they are not doing it the traditional way,” she said. “It used to be a successful business was because they made a great product or service. It was something tangible. Now the wealthiest are the people who just make money off money. I think that is what they highlighted. People making the money now are not producing anything.”

“I hope Occupy can sustain, and find a new forum to continue the dialogue that they started,” she said. “What needed to happen was to coalesce the idea and bring it to a level that elected officials can react to. That creates public policy. The issues they raised were right, but have been unable so far to offer tangible solutions.

The challenge for elected officials now is how to evaluate this, see how we can change that dynamic and the Occupy folks need to be a part of that discussion and not just complaining. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

“It involved many young people. They are graduating from college and getting no jobs. That is not a pretty picture. California is the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in the world. What is it that makes us so poor when we are so rich?” she asked. “What are the things we are all willing to work together on and when will we pony up? We have to get away from the idea that we are in this all alone. When you have lost your job and you are losing your house, what do you do?”

Returning Veterans

The issue of how to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan return to jobs and civilian life will be important over the next couple of years, she said.

“Many are coming back wounded from the wars,” she said. “They are downsizing the military, they are coming back and we have high unemployment. We need to find jobs for returning veterans in an economy that is slowly moving in mud. It’s going forward, but you still have to pull your shoe out of the mud to get a step ahead.”

“These veterans can help stimulate the economy, just like after World War II. But they need the support to create new businesses, get an education and fully integrate,” Ducheny said.

“The state budget is still not back to where it was in 2006/07. Forget inflation, just real dollars. You can’t just keep living at that lower, lower level,” she said.

“The other big ones we are going to have to grapple with are social security, Medicare, Medical and trying to keep the health care systems going. We can’t cut Medicare rates to where doctors are refusing patients.”

Redevelopment

The recent dissolution of redevelopment agencies really hurts small towns like National City and Imperial Beach, Ducheny said.

“The problem is that people did not want to amend it in a way that would have tightened the rules,” she said. “I saw this coming a few years ago. The heart of this problem is Proposition 13 and how property taxes are distributed. Because we froze things under Prop 13, if you were a low property tax city that didn’t have a lot then those cities get stiffed from the formula.”

“The original intent is still good and I am hopeful they can come up with a new version. The idea is to do things that make property in the area worth more. That benefits everybody,” she said.

“The new Seacoast Inn is a good example. What the old Seacoast Inn generated in property taxes and what the new one will bring in the increment, when you get that boost that pays off for a few years you can use that revenue to pay off what you are investing in, in the same neighborhood. Then you pay that bond off with this increment. Then everybody is getting benefit from this higher property tax. But in the meantime, what you are really doing is sequestering property tax that would otherwise go to schools or community colleges.”

Ducheny said she would support the idea of a community development act to funnel property tax dollars to projects that boost local economies. As a member of Congress she said she would explore ways the federal government could get involved.

“It allows a small city like Imperial Beach to complete infrastructure for a project that will help everybody move forward. The property tax split problem remains, partly because we still have these antiquated formulas that Prop 13 put in place. Not reassessing property and the problem of devalued property have constrained everybody.”

http://imperialbeach.patch.com/articles/denise-ducheny-california-51st-congressional-district-election-2012

DA Decries County’s ‘Largest’ Corruption Case

'WIDESPREAD CORRUPTION' — San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the corruption case her office is pursuing is the largest of its kind in county history. Dumanis said said a 'pay for play culture' spawned scores of illegal actions at Southwestern and Sweetwater, including bribery, perjury and inlfuencing an elected official.

Bribery, influence peddling center of a year-long probe

 By: Albert H. Fulcher, Senior Staff WriterEnrique Raymundo, Contributor

Published: Friday, January 27th, 2012 at 3:24 am

December 20, 2011 began as a mellow holiday with the morning sun working away at the winter chill. By dusk the landscape of South Bay politics and its two largest school systems was forever changed.

 

In a lightening strike that combined military precision and lockdown secrecy, a small battalion of officers armed with guns and search warrants swept through the homes of two former Southwestern College administrators, five current and former Sweetwater Union High School District officials, and a construction company executive who worked with both districts.

Arraigned so far are Sweetwater trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quiñones, former trustee Greg Sandoval, former superintendent Jesus Gandara, and Seville Construction executive Henry Amigable. They face up to seven years in prison on multiple felony counts of bribery, perjury, filing a false instrument, influencing an elected official and other charges. All pled not guilty. Facing possible charges are former Southwestern College administrators Nicholas Alioto and John Wilson. The home of Sweetwater trustee Bertha Lopez was also searched, but she has not been charged.

More people could be searched and arrested, according to San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

At a press conference the week after the raids Dumanis decried the “culture of corruption” at Sweetwater and the “pay-for-play culture” at both districts.

“The widespread corruption we uncovered during our investigation of this case is outrageous and shameful,” Dumanis said. “For years, public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multi-million 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 the taxpayers who footed the bill for lavish dinners, concert and theatre tickets, and much more.”

At the center of the charges are two voter-approved construction bond measures totaling more than $1 billion. Sweetwater’s $644 million Proposition O and Southwestern’s $389 million Proposition R attracted many of the state’s largest architectural and construction firms to compete for some of the county’s best-funded projects.

On Dec. 16 District Attorney investigators were granted search warrants by a superior court judge based on hundreds of pages of evidence DA personnel say prove that the educators and Amigable engaged in bribery and other illegal activities prior to and after the awarding of lucrative contracts. Affidavits requesting the search warrants were three inches thick and enumerated scores of examples of alleged criminal behavior.

Dumanis said there was a clear link between favorable treatment the school officials received from contractors and the contracts awarded.

“(School officials) also traded their votes for significant campaign donations,” she said. “When it came time for the school board trustees to document all of these gifts on their statements of economic interests, they simply lied. Taxpayers, parents and students deserve better. This is an ongoing investigation. Additional charges and additional defendants are possible.”

District Attorney spokespersons would not speculate about additional defendants and would neither confirm or deny that former SWC superintendent Raj K. Chopra and former SWC trustee Yolanda Salcido were targets of the investigation.

Evidence collected showed extensive communication between employees of the construction and architectural firms and the school officials, mostly on personal e-mail accounts between 2007 and 2010. E-mail seized by the DA showed meetings for evenings of drinking, expensive dinners, golf vacations, theatre tickets, NBA and NFL games. School officials also accepted large donations to pay for activities by their children.

Arlie Ricasa

Ricasa, SWC’s director of student development, is now on non-disciplinary leave pending the college’s internal investigation ordered by the new governing board majority last April. About 20 Ricasa family members and supporters filled the courtroom with “I Love Arlie” buttons at the arraignment.

Gilbane records show $1,280.22 in expenses for dinners and gifts for Ricasa. E-mails obtained by the DA suggesting she demanded campaign contributions, $1,800 to send her daughter to a Congressional Youth Leadership Conference, $2,500 for a table for a MAAC Project event, and others. Hector Romero, president of HAR Construction, reported contributing to Ricasa campaigns and donating to the Sweetwater Mariachi Foundation with the hope of additional contracts.

Ricasa’s defense attorney Allen Bloom said he has seen similar accusations and high profile press conferences in the recent past with the DA’s office that ended up in exonerations and apologies.

“I am hoping to have a press conference in the future to say that Arlie is not guilty,” he said. “The supporters are here because they love her.”

John Wilson

In December 2010 Alioto initiated a contract for “John Wilson Consulting” to assist in the management and supervision of all aspects of the SWC’s bond related capital construction program. In May, Seville invoiced SWC for Wilson as “Program Liaison” for 118 hours for a total of $19,470. Alioto approved the invoice and Wilson continued his employment with Seville through August 2010 for a total of $80,850. Seville donated heavily to incumbent SWC trustees seeking re-election, including at least $7,500 to Salcido, $2,400 to Terri Valladolid and $4,000 to trustee Jorge Dominguez.

Wilson’s search warrant alleges that he “greatly influenced” the SWC Governing Board’s vote regarding Seville and indicated he provided inside information prior to them being awarded the corner lot contract. His dating relationship with Salcido during this time “clearly appears to be a conflict.”

Nicholas Alioto

Alioto’s long list of pay-to-play activities with Seville and BCA Architects show evenings of drinking, lunches, dinners, golfing vacations (including a three-day trip to Pebble Beach), wine, birthday gifts and contributions to three SWC board members Alioto actively endorsed.

In June 2010, Alioto spent a weekend with Echo Pacific President Christopher Rowe, Amigable and Paul Bunton of BCA Architects at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa. The trip was won by Echo Pacific in an auction at an SWC Educational Foundation gala that shut out the media and banned “unauthorized” cameras, including those of paid ticket holders.

Alioto resigned in February 2011 shortly after the new governing board majority of Norma Hernandez, Tim Nader and Nick Aguilar took over. Alioto received a $60,000 separation settlement, but no district-funded legal guarantees. His Chula Vista home was foreclosed in July and he currently lives in a Poway guest house on Rowe’s property.

Henry Amigable

Former Gilbane Construction employee Henry Amigable faces two felony counts involving bribery and influence peddling to gain multi-million dollar contracts from Sweetwater and Southwestern.

Amigable resigned from Gilbane in March 2009 and immediately went to work for Seville in April. Gilbane officials reported he resigned prior to being fired for problems with his work performance and abuse of client entertainment expenditures.

In 2007 Amigable’s dinners and junkets began involving SWC’s former governing board member Yolanda Salcido, her boyfriend Wilson and Alioto.

District Attorney documents claim that Amigable was key to Seville winning SWC’s Proposition R program management contract due to his close relationship with Salcido and Wilson. Wilson retired from SWC on December 30, 2009 after the SWC board accepted his recommendation of Seville as project manager in November.

Attorney Dan Greene said Amigable was doing what he was supposed to in a very competitive industry.

“He is an employee,” said Greene. “He is…trained by companies he has worked for that you need to make connections. You need to introduce people at meet-and-greets, that involves wining and dining. He is a person that is doing his job. If this were the private sector, I am sure that no one would be shocked. Wining and dining happens all the time.”

Greene said Amigable is not required to file reports on expenditures like public officials, but is responsible to report all his expenses to his employer and that “he does, and he did.”

When asked about bribery charges, Greene called it a “pretty big word that is interpreted broadly in the state of California.”

“Let me say this, what bribery requires under any law is corrupt intent,” said Green. “I think what we are going to see throughout this process is the Mr. Amigable had absolutely no corrupt intent. He is a man just like everyone else in this country that is trying to do his job.”

Greg Sandoval

Sandoval has ties with both districts and a long list of alleged bribes and favorable treatment. He is former SWC vice president of student affairs and served as interim president during the spring 2007 semester. Sandoval left the college in September 2008 under pressure from Chopra and allegations of sexual harassment. He recently disclosed documents that cleared him of those charges.

Sandoval reported $470 in gifts from Gilbane in 2007-08, but the DA alleged gifts in excess of $5,270, including $500 for his daughter to enter a beauty pageant.

Defense attorney Ricardo Gonzalez called the charges against Sandoval “overly sensationalized” and said his client is a man of high character.

“This is a man who has worked in the education world and gave his life to education, and continues to do so,” said Gonzalez.

Pearl Quiñones

Quiñones received $23,900 for her 2010 campaign from Seville as well as dinners, theatre and donations to the National Latino Education Fund in excess of $1,800. Quiñones listed $45 in theatre tickets and no reportable interests for 2008.

Her attorney Marc Carlos said her vote was not for sale. When asked if she would relinquish her seat on the board, Quiñones replied, “No, absolutely no.”

Jesus Gandara

Hired as Sweetwater superintendent in 2006, Gandara was fired in June 2011 for his credit card expenses, hiring a public relation firm without board consent and inviting district vendors to his daughter’s bridal shower, complete with a money tree. Sweetwater spent more than $520,000 in Proposition O money last year on public relations for its ongoing projects.

Records show Amigable treated Gandara and his family to expensive dinners and events before and after Gandara recommended Seville for Prop O contracts. Gandara received $6,124 in entertainment expenses paid by Gilbane and $1,000 for his daughter’s beauty pageant entry fees. HAR Construction reported purchasing dinners, lunches and drinks, and renting a $1,500 Halloween costume for Gandara in 2010.

Gandara’s attorney Paul Pfingst said most of the offenses are due to filling out forms incorrectly and plans to come back to court with evidence that supports his client.

“My client has been in education almost his entire adult life and before he came to San Diego he had an impeccable background,” said Pfingst. “Every place he has been he has received accolades.”

Enrique Raymundo contributed to this story

http://www.theswcsun.com/2012/01/27/da-decries-county%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98largest%E2%80%99-corruption-case/

As Investigations Continue, Southwestern College Ends Prop R Contracts

The school’s Governing Board took action against current contracts in response to the District Attorney’s investigation into Sweetwater Unified High School District and Southwestern College and an alleged “pay to play” culture.

Southwestern College’s voter approved $389 million Proposition R corner lot project is back to the drawing board.

In closed session more than two hours, the governing board announced Wenesday evening it directed legal counsel and staff to sever the contractual relationship with Seville Construction Services, Inc. and BCA Architects.

Board President Norma Hernandez said this action is in the best interest in serving all rights of the college.

“The board also directed the staff to initiate a Request For Proposal related to replacement of program manager and architectural services,” Hernandez said. “The board directed counsel and staff to continue full cooperation with the District Attorney’s investigation and continue to evaluate the college’s legal options.”

On Nov. 18, 2009, the college’s governing board approved at $2.7 million contract with Seville Construction as program management services.

Approved in April 2010, BCA was awarded a $55 million contract. Former Governing Board Member Nick Aguilar walked out of the meeting refusing to vote, saying the process lacked transparency and violated the board’s ethics policy.

These actions follow on the heels of the San Diego County District Attorney’s ongoing investigation into questionable relationship between board members, administrators and contractors at Sweetwater Union High School District and Southwestern College.

The board’s decision revolves around both the DA’s investigation and its own internal investigation of Prop. R contracts and the college’s Education Foundation, which initiated in April 2011. The board hired an independent forensic auditor to conduct the investigation.

With his home raided in the DA’s warrant sweep last December, former vice-president of business and financial affairs Nicholas Alioto recommended both Seville and BCA as the project’s most qualified bidders.

Alioto resigned last February after a contentious election that overturned the former governing board, with the “pay to play” scandals surfacing in news media throughout the county.

Alioto’s recommendation and board’s of Echo Pacific’s $4 million corner lot construction came after a conspicuous trip to Napa Valley. Echo Pacific was released of its contract in a mutual agreement with the college’s governing board in October last year. Facing two felony counts of perjury and up to seven years in prison, Henry Amigable, former Gilbane employee for the SUHSD was hired by Echo Pacific to work with the corner lot project shortly after he quit Gilbane.

At last night’s meeting, Hernandez said that the college, now under the leadership of its new Superintendent/President Dr. Melinda Nish is dedicated to being as transparent as it can about the results of its internal investigation.

Board members Humberto Peraza and Tim Nader both requested that Nish have staff provide more detailed information in future agendas concerning the process of selection of contracts. They also requested training for governing board members and public on the current process being used to qualify a bidder or award a contract.

Nish said this board training will be included in the February or March governing board workshop.

“It is important for the community to know that the college’s current board did not make these decisions and that the new board doesn’t work that way,” Peraza said.

http://imperialbeach.patch.com/articles/southwestern-college-ends-prop-r-contracts

Little Support For ‘In God We Trust’ at City Council Meeting

Councilmember Lorie Bragg found little support when she asked council to consider reaffirming the national motto “In God We Trust” at a future council meeting.

Councilmember Lorie Bragg asked other members of the Imperial Beach City Council to consider voting yes to reaffirm the nation’s motto “In God We Trust” at a future council meeting. The request came after an email was sent last November to city officials by Jacquie Sullivan, founder of In God We Trust ~ America Inc., and city councilmember in Bakersfield, CA.

Bragg said she had no desire to bring this before the council in order put a sign up in city hall (part of Sullivan’s “patriot” campaign) but rather to reaffirm the national motto.

This comes shortly after the 396-9 House of Representatives reaffirmation in November 2011.

“When you think is this politically correct to bring forward? I guess I thought it was politically incorrect to ignore it,” said Bragg.

Only a few came to speak for and against this subject on the city’s agenda, including long term Imperial Beach residents Miriam Tosupovici, Capt. William Zidbeck and Serge Dedina.

Zidbeck said he was for honoring the national motto and even though he originally came from Panama, said he was a great student of the constitution.

Coming from a sole family survivor of Nazi concentration camps, Tosupovici said with so many atrocities in the world done in the name of God, it is not right to place God and government together.

Dedina said he loves the liberty he sees in Imperial Beach, and when he walks into City Hall, he sees it. Not because of a motto, but because of the state and national flags.

Bragg motioned that the reaffirmation of the national motto “In God We Trust” be brought to a future city council meeting and did not receive a second to her motion. Councilman Brian Bilbray was not present.

“Thank you colleagues. I withdraw my motion,” she said.

Sweetwater Board Members Arraigned on Corruption Charges

Southwestern College and Sweetwater Union High School District leaders were arraigned Friday after allegedly participating in “pay-to-play” tactics with construction companies for years.

Honorable Michael Smyth, San Diego County Superior Court

Voters approved more than $1 billion in bonds for school improvements in 2006 and 2008. What followed, the District Attorney’s office alleges, was the largest public corruption case of its kind the department and San Diego has ever seen.

The five defendants in the Sweetwater Unified High School District corruption case, four of them current or former board members, pleaded not guilty to all charges this afternoon downtown, with a large audience of concerned citizens, supporters and media in attendance.

Judge Michael Smyth released all five defendants on their own recognizance, with no bail set.

A status conference has been scheduled for March 23 at 9 a.m. for all defendants.

Board members Pearl Quiñones and Arlie Ricasa will be booked and released Jan. 22 at the Los Colinas Detention Faciliy. When asked both said they were unwilling to step down from their present positions on the Board of Trustees and further stated through their attorneys that they were innocent of all charges.

Former superintendent Jesus Gandara is scheduled to be booked and released on March 23 due to his residency in Texas. Former board member Gregory Sandoval January 22 and Henry Amigable, former Gilbane employee on January 29.

Contractor Henry Amigable left immediately after the arraignment but his defense attorney said his client was only doing his job and reported all expenditures properly. He said that what is being called “pay to play” is misconstrued and the charges of bribery false.

Ricasa had a large group of supporters scattered through the courtroom, many wearing “I Love Arlie” buttons. Among the group were Southwestern Colleges current Associated Student Organization President Claudia Duran who has worked closely with Ricasa in her role.

On Dec. 21, the DA’s office ordered warrant sweeps of current and former Sweetwater Unified High School District board members and contractor Henry Amigable.

Gifts to decision-makers ranged from tickets to Lakers, Chargers and Padres games to tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, the DA’s office said.

Many of the gifts and contributions went unreported, violating Political Reform Act requirements.

Former superintendent Jesus Gandara

Jesus Gandara

The former SUHSD superintendent is charged with eight felony counts between April 2008 and April 2011, with four counts of perjury and four counts of filing false instrument and three misdemeanor charges of public official-wrongful influence between January 2008 and June 2010. Gandara wasfired by the district’s board last summer.

Former SUHSD Board Member Gregory Sandoval

Gregory Sandoval

The former SUHSD board member is charged with eight felony counts between April 2008 and April 2011, with four counts of perjury and four counts of filing false instrument along with two misdemeanor charges of public official-wrongful influence.

SUHSD Board Member Pearl Quinones

Pearl Quiñones

The SUHSD board member is charged with four felony charges including two counts of perjury and two counts of filing false instrument between April 2008 and April 2009 and one misdemeanor charge of public official-wrongful influence.

SUHSD Board Member Arlie Ricasa

Arlie Ricasa

The SUHSD board member is charged with four felony counts between April 2008 and April 2010 including two counts of perjury by declaration and two counts of filing false instrument and two misdemeanor charges between January 2008 and June 2010 of public official-wrongful influence.

Henry Amigable

Henry Amigable

The contractor and former Gilbane employee is charged with two felony counts between January and March 2008 of giving or offering a bribe and obtaining thing of value to influence member of a legislative body.

Evidence collected by District Attorney’s office before Dec. 21 warrant sweep:

  • Sept. 1, 2006. Dr. Jesus M. Gandara hired as superintendent of Sweetwater Unified High School District.
  • Nov. 7, 2006. Voters approve Proposition O, a $644 million bond measure to renovate, upgrade, repair, construct and acquire new school building and support facilities.
  • Jan. 19, 2007. Henry Amigable and wife host dinner for Gandara, his spouse, Sandoval, his spouse and BCA architects Paul Bunton and Rachael Del Fierro. $1,162.08, non-reported.
  • Feb. 2, 2007. Amigable bought lunch for former SUHSD interim superintendent Bruce Husson and former SUHSD Director of Planning, Construction and Maintenance Kay Wright. $83.62, non-reported.
  • Feb. 20, 2007. Board of trustees directed Gandara to initiate RFQ process for Program Management Services and recommend a finalist to the board.
  • Feb. 24, 2007. Amigable took Ramon Leyba, SUHSD assistant superintendent for facilities and operations; his wife; John Wilson, director of facilities and operations, SWC; and former SWC board member Yolanda Salcido to dinner. $696.66, non-reported.
  • Feb. 26, 2007. Request for Qualification/Request for Proposal issued. Seven proposals received by March 23, 2007.
  • March 2, 2007. Amigable to Sandoval and wife to dinner. $646.23, non-reported.
  • March 9, 2007. Amigable and wife hosed dinner for Gandara and daughter, Sandoval and wife, Ricasa and husband and SGI President Rene Flores. $1,741.70, non-reported.
  • March 30, 2007. Panel narrows three firms for final interview. Gandara and Leyba on final interview committee.
  • March 30, 2007. Amigable took Sandoval, Wilson and guest to dinner. $629.52, non-reported.
  • April 2, 2007. Amigable took Leyba to dinner. $192.69, non-reported.
  • April 20, 2007. Gandara recommended Gilbane/SGI as top candidate. Leyba stated in his opinion it was clear that Gilbane/SGI was Gandara’s choice and the final selection panel swayed heavily in its favor. He reported that Harris and Associates, Program Management for Prop BB, had done an excellent job and would have been more cost effective to award it contract for Prop O. He further stated he was the only opposing vote for Gilbane/SGI. He was made the director of education and incurred a $20,000 pay cut.
  • May 7, 2007. SUHSD board approves interim agreement with Gilbane/SGI for Program Management Services for Proposition BB and Proposition O bond measures.
  • May 11, 2007. Amigable to Leyba to lunch. $38.00, non-reported.
  • May 12, 2007. Amigable took Ricasa and husband to dinner. $313.18, non-reported.
  • May 16, 2007. Gandara recommended and board approved interim agreement with Gilbane/SGI for Program Management Services for Proposition O Bond Measure.
  • May 17, 2007. Amigable took Leyba and Ortiz to lunch. $60.40, non-reported.
  • June 14, 2007. SGI contributed $3,600 to Ricasa’s campaign for State Assembly District 78.
  • June 16, 2007. Amigable; his wife; Pearl Quiñones; Gandara; his wife; and Rosario Nunez to dinner. $835.66, non-reported.
  • June 18, 2007. Amigable and wife, Leyba and wife, Pat Buckley to dinner. $212.82, non-reported.
  • June 20, 2007. Amigable paid for drinks and appetizers for Sandoval and Wilson. $53.34, non-reported.
  • June 24, 2007. Amigable to Gandara to lunch. $14.09, non-reported.
  • Aug. 11, 2007. Amigable and wife took Gandara and wife to dinner. $175.53, non-reported.
  • Aug. 15, 2007. Amigable took Gandara to lunch. $58.47, non-reported.
  • Aug. 17, 2007. Amigable took Sandoval, Wilson and Art Lopes to lunch. $85.66, non-reported.
  • Aug. 24, 2007. Amigable and wife took Sandoval and Ernie Comacho, Pacifica Services to dinner. $384.35, non-reported.
  • Sept. 8, 2007. Amigable and wife took Gandara and wife to dinner. $360.96, non-reported.
  • Sept. 13, 2007. Amigable paid for drinks for Sandoval and wife, Gandara and wife at Hotel del Coronado. $87.28, non-reported.
  • Oct. 8, 2007. Amigable donated to the National Latino Education Fund at the behest of Pearl Quiñones. Non-reported.
  • Oct. 11, 2007. Amigable and wife treated Gandara and wife to dinner and theater. $482.09, non-reported.
  • Oct. 26, 2007. Amigable and wife hosted dinner for Sandoval and wife, Ricasa and husband, Gandara and wife. $797.73, non-reported.
  • Nov. 2, 2007. Amigable entertained Quiñones, Rosario Nunez and Ortiz to dinner and Jersey Boys performance. $976.23-dinner non-reported.
  • Nov. 10, 2007. Amigable and wife treat Sandoval and wife, Gandara and wife to dinner and tickets to Jersey Boys. $1,103.22. Gandara did not report dinner and tickets. Sandoval reported tickets.
  • Dec. 8, 2007. Amigable and wife took Sandoval, Gandara and wife to dinner at Hyatt Hotel $701.07, non-reported.
  • Dec. 10, 2007. Gandara recommended extension of the Proposition O Program Management Contract, board approved.
  • Dec. 21, 2007. SGI contributed $2,500 to SUHSD board member Jim Cartmill’s campaign committee.
  • Jan. 5, 2008. Amigable and wife host dinner for Sandoval, wife, Gandara, wife, SWC Art Lopez, and guest. $1,090.70, non-reported.
  • Jan. 25, 2008. Amigable took Sandoval and wife to dinner. $185.71, non-reported.
  • Jan. 28, 2008. Gandara recommended Gilbane/SGI awarded $7.5 million contract. Board approved with 5-0 vote.
  • Investigator determines that in 2007, Henry Amigable, Gilbane employee, curried favors and received preferential treatment from Gandara and several board members by “wining and dining” them prior to Evidence of Proposition O. Quid Pro Quo-Ricasa did not report and reportable interest for 2007 and 2008. Quiñones listed $45 theater tickets from Gilbane and nor reportable interest for 2008. Sandoval listed $250 for theater tickets in 2007 from Gilbane, $120 in Padre tickets and $100 for dinner in 2008 from Gilbane. Gandara listed no reportable interest for 2007 and 2008.
  • Evidence indicating SGI paid Ricasa $1,800 to send her daughter to a Congressional Youth Leadership Conference
  • May 20, 2008. Gandara recommended amendment for first nine projects of Proposition O for an amount not to exceed $9.9 million. Board approved with a 3-2 vote.
  • Nov. 4, 2008. Voters approve Proposition R, a $389 million bond measure to renovate, upgrade, repair, construct and acquire new school buildings and support facilities
  • March 2009. Amigable resigned from Gilbane Building Company and hired by Seville Construction Services in April 2009. Gilbane reports he resigned prior to being fired due to reported problems with his work performance and abuse of client entertainment expenditures. Gilbane provided Amigable’s expense statements involving SUHSD.
  • Sept. 9, 2009. John Wilson, senior director of business operations and facilities planning, announced retirement effective Dec. 30, 2009. Southwestern College (SWC) board approved.
  • Nov. 18, 2009. SWC governing board selected Seville Construction Services Inc. as Project Managers for Prop R.
  • SGI contributed approximately $81,500 from 2007 through 2010, including $13,600 to Arlie Ricasa and $22,500 to Friends of Jim Cartmill. Some of these contributions made prior to SUHSD board’s approval of the Proposition O contract on Jan. 28, 2008.
  • SGI contributed $12,500 to John McCann for school board 2010, $23,900 to Quiñones, $2,000 to Friends of Bertha Lopez and $7,000 to Friends of Greg Sandoval.
  • Amigable continued to wine and dine Sweetwater School Board during 2008 through March 2009 when he resigned from Gilbane.
  • Gandara entertainment expenses paid by Gilbane from 2007 through March 2009 are $6,124.95. $1,000 was given to daughter for fees associated with a beauty pageant.
  • Sandoval received $5,270.85 with $500 paid to his daughter for beauty pageant scholarship.
  • Quiñones received $1,872.23, Ricasa $1,280.22, Lopez $605.56 and Leyba $603.14.
  • May 11, 2010. SCS submitted invoice listing John Wilson as program liaison, and billed SWC $19,470 for 118 hours at $165 an hour.
  • May 31, 2010. Contract with Gilbane/SGI expired. SUHSD did not renew contract and voted to award contract solely to SGI. Elimination of Gilbane gave SGI a 51 percent increase in revenue.
  • September 7, 2010 e-mail from SGI Jaime Ortiz, Ricasa request SGI to buy a table for herself and guest to MAAC event (Ricasa Chair of MAAC) $2,500
  • Hector Romero, president HAR Construction, admitted purchasing dinners, lunches and drinks for board members Greg Sandoval and his wife, Arlie Ricasa, Bertha Lopez, Jesus Gandara and his wife and renting Halloween costume for Gandara.
  • Romero reported contributing to Ricasa and Lopez’s political campaigns and donations to the Sweetwater Educational and Mariachi Foundation.
  • Romero reported being with Gandara in Mexico when Gandara contacted SGI and solicited a $20,000 contribution to Jim Cartmill’s campaign for SUHSD School Board.
  • Romero advised SGI made $12,500 contribution to John McCann’s campaign for SUHSD Board.
  • Romero reported being pressured to donate to Sweetwater Educational Foundation by SGI Program Manager Jaime Ortiz.
  • Romero reported he contributed to political campaigns of Ricasa and donations to the Mariachi Foundation with the hope of additional construction contracts through a “lease-lease back” contract.
  • Romero admitted developing relationship with Gandara to gain favors, claimed harassment by SGI Jaime Ortiz, claiming Ortiz responsible for not approving work performed by HAR Construction resulting with HAR Construction’s contract terminated. Romero filed a civil suit.
  • Romero records showed he spent $1,568.59 in 2010 on Gandara and his wife and $707.92 on Sandoval and his wife.
  • Sandoval reported $225 in gifts from HAR Construction and claimed no reportable interests for 2010.

http://imperialbeach.patch.com/articles/sweetwater-board-members-arraigned-on-corruption-charges?

City Council Takes Steps to Dissolve Redevelopment Agency

New hotel at the site of the old Seacoast Inn in construction.

With the California Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold state laws, redevelopment agencies must be dissolved by the end of the month. IB City Council appointed the city’s Housing Agency as the successor to redevelopment projects at their meeting last Wednesday.

Cities across California are scrambling to meet a Feb. 1 deadline to dissolve redevelopment agencies, and must name a successor to their redevelopment agency by Friday.

By approving three resolutions at a Jan. 5 special meeting, City Council designated the Housing Authority as the successor agency to the Imperial Beach Redevelopment Agency. The Housing Authority was created last year in response to threats by Govenor Brown to eliminate redevelopment agencies.

The Housing Authority will have the ability to perform fair housing functions previously assigned to the redevelopment agency.

Council also ratified the transfer of housing assets from the redevelopment agency to the Housing Authority.

City Manager Gary Brown said the law states that city government could declare itself successor agency to the redevelopment agency. This gives the Housing Authority the ability to do the projects previously done with housing funds through redevelopment.

In February 2011, City Council created the Housing Authority shortly after the governor proposed dissolving redevelopment agencies. City Council and staff serve as commissioners to the Housing Authority.

“You will be in charge of dissolving the facets of the redevelopment agency,” he said. “And you will be monitored by a seven member oversight committee.”

Special Counsel Susan Cola said if cities do not follow through with this procedure, then ultimately it will be the decision of the county how these funds are used and could be less favorable for the city.

Brown said the Oversight Committee consists of two people selected by City Council and two appointed by the County of San Diego Board of Supervisors. Cola said that the district’s school superintendent and colleges appoint stakeholders, but there are things that still needs to be worked out and the formation of the committee is still unclear in some areas.

“If you wanted to change or negotiate something, you would have to go to them,” she said. “Additionally you will have to deal with the county because they will have control of the funds. So everyone is going to have their hands in how dissolution occurs.”

Councilwoman Lorie Bragg said she would assume that this committee would have Imperial Beach’s “best interest at heart,” but Cola said that is an incorrect assumption.

“They are going to look at their own hard facts, costs and each will be looking out for their own interest,” said Cola. “It is critical that you build the coalitions with the Mayor and establish a good relationship with the county auditor who will have control of the flow of the money.”

Cola said there is a consensus on how the committee will operate, but there are some grey areas and will probably be flushed out in progression.

“I actually hopeful that there will be an extension, because it will be a mess otherwise,” she said.

“It is important to appoint someone who knows what the city’s needs are and plays nice with the other committee members who can use their influence in order to accomplish certain goals of the city.”

Councilmember Jim King said the “grey areas” concern him the most.

“I think that this is the best move for the city to be making,” he said. “We are in the best position to move this forward, and bring to the table the things we have worked so hard for. It is the only true viable way to protect our interest.”

Cola said the future is speculative at this point. The California Redevelopment Association is trying a two-step approach. One, to postpone the dissolution date of Feb. 1 to give people time to create fixes to the existing legislation.

“I have also heard the CRA may be lobbying to have some agencies created with limited powers like Brown Field’s housing,” Cola said. “But since the governor pretty well has everything he wants I don’t know what the outcome of that is going to be. I would stay tuned for the next couple of months.”

Cola said litigation and a restraining order was filed to get temporary relief in order to prevent theoperation of Assembly Bill 26 (dissolving redevelopment agencies) based on interference with contracts.

“You are in good shape, you already have consummated your agreements, you have contractual obligations with third parties to the extent you can carry that out,” she said. “They have the power to unwind some things so the ideal is to get projects to a certain point that it is not economic for the deal to be unwound.”

Brown said there would be a meeting Jan. 18 to work out where current city projects stand at this point.

Mayor Jim Janney said that many cities are following up with similar procedures in reaction to the court’s ruling.

“It is pretty complicated, but I believe they (city staff) are getting us up ahead of what’s coming here,” he said.

Janney called the issue a moving target right now, that there is more to come and planning is poor.

“We have to be both flexible and out in front of this,” said Janney. “This is the most important thing. We have projects that are not only shovel ready, but the shovel is already in the ground. These are things that actually bring benefit to the people of Imperial Beach.”

Janney and other city officials have opposed the idea of getting rid of redevelopment agencies since it was first suggested during Gov. Brown’s 2010 campaign for governor.

http://imperialbeach.patch.com/articles/imperial-beach-city-council-takes-steps-to-dissolve-redevelopment-agency

Surfers try an early morning run in the big waves this weekend

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