A lawyer for former Southwestern College Vice President Nicholas Alioto convinced the judge in the South Bay Corruption Case to reduce his original guilty plea from a felony to a misdemeanor. Alioto, the last of the SWC defendants to be sentenced, escaped prison time in exchange for a $8,000 fine and community service.
Alioto was originally indicted on 12 counts, including bribery and perjury. He pleaded guilty to one felony count, but his Public Defender Danesh Tandon asked Judge Ana España for a motion to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor.
España granted the request over the objections of four citizens who argued that the former VP of business and fiscal affairs deserved prison time due to the severity of his offenses.
A grand jury originally indicted 15 defendants on a total of 262 charges, including SWC officials, current and former Sweetwater Union High School District officials, and agents of construction firms. When The Sun began investigating irregularities in construction bids and campaign contributions, Alioto, former trustee Yolanda Salcido and former SWC President Raj K. Chopra attempted to shut down the student newspaper in order to stifle the investigation. The Sun received an outpouring of financial support from the community and was able to break the story of the South Bay Corruption Case.
Dr. Carla Kirkwood, SWC Coordinator for International Programs, told España that Alioto was a dishonest bully who took bribes and tried repeatedly to shut down the student newspaper in 2009 and 2010.
“When we began to investigate what was going on with Prop R money and contract negotiations, The Sun immediately had its funding blocked by Mr. Alioto’s office so they could not report on that information,” she said.
Sweetwater Bond Oversight Committee Chairman Nick Marinovich urged España not let Alioto off lightly.
“I worked for the County of San Diego for 30 years,” he said. “What we’re talking about here is the public’s trust. What Mr. Alioto did was despicable.”
Marinovich asked España to give Alioto a harsher sentence than previous defendants.
“(Alioto’s) mannerisms seemed a little odd, like he was hiding something,” Marinovich said. “As it all came out, we’ve seen the facts before you. I guess what this comes down to is what message this is sending (to the community) by what you do today to those that work in the public arena. Is it going to be (a slap on the wrist) or is it going to be a little more?”
España suggested to Alioto that he should apologize for his crimes. Alioto stood and said he accepted responsibility for actions.
“I believe very strongly to this day that the actions that I took were intended to get the best deal for the college,” he said. “I did accept these gifts and that had consequences and a reduction in the community’s faith, and for that I’m truly sorry.”
After his sentencing Alioto declined to comment on the case, but told a reporter for The Sun that he never received fair treatment from the campus newspaper.
“Your organization has never printed anything I said correctly and I don’t intend to continue to discuss it,” he said.
Alioto then hollered to a nearby Chula Vista Police officer twice and asked him to tell the reporter to leave him alone. The officer ignored both requests. Alioto then climbed into a new Mercedes Benz and said he would never, ever return to Chula Vista.