By Samantha Mendoza
Seville Construction contractor Henry Amigable pleaded guilty to in court to offering gifts to leaders of the Sweetwater Union High School District in exchange for Proposition O construction contracts. He also promised to cooperate fully with San Diego County District Attorney investigators.
Amigable will be sentenced will be determined in 90 days. He faces a $1,000 fine and up to six months in prison. He has also been charged with crimes committed during the procurement of Proposition R contracts at SWC.
Dan Greene, Amigable’s attorney, said Amigable did not know he was breaking the law and was just doing what his employers asked of him.
“Mr. Amigable was an employee of a company and part of this mandate and requirements for his job was to make relationships with people so that he could spread the word of what a company could do with respect to these construction bond measures,” said Greene. “Part of that is entertaining. I think there’s a certain line perhaps it crosses where the demands that are being made for these gifts, for these tickets, for the entertainment, goes too far, and I think that’s what has been coming out and what was understood by the district attorney’s office.”
Paul Pfingst, the attorney for former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara, said he listens more to the defendant than the lawyer.
“The defendant just pled guilty and said he did not bribe anyone and didn’t think anything he was doing was wrong,” he said. “In this case the person that has been alleged to do the worst which is bribe public officials came to court and said he didn’t intend to.”
Pfingst said Amigable has pointed fingers at higher-ups in his company.
“It is undisputed what happened,” he said. “The person and the only person who was alleged to have made bribes said he did not bribe anyone.”
Amigable plead guilty to violating Education Code 35230 which states that offering a thing of valuable thing to any member of the governing board of any school district, with the intent to influence his action, is a misdemeanor.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but you can be guaranteed that Mr. Amigable is going to continue to cooperate, provide his full assistance in the prosecution and speak to investigators … of what went on in South Bay,” said Greene. “Mr. Amigable has been working in San Diego for 15 years and he’s been in this business for 20 years. So the reason people wanted him to work for them was because he was very good at what he did. And it’s not limited to the ability to be able to wine and dine. It’s because he’s knowledgeable about procedures, he has knowledge of the process, he has knowledge of different contracts and how the company that he works for can best benefit the community.”
Greene said entertainment expenses were not paid with tax dollars. He said the money that was spent on these but by Amigable’s company. That is why Amigable filled out the expense reports and was always reimbursed by the company that he worked for, Greene said.
“In the other districts where he’s worked, there was never this kind of involvement with board members, the elected officials,” said Greene. “When he was working in this particular area and was working for the construction company that he was working for under Prop O, there were certain trainings of the company and he relied on his employers to educate him on their process and what they wanted. Part of how they trained him was get in front of these people, make relationships, tell them what we can do to be of service to them and that’s how it all came to be.”
Amigable said he did not know he was doing anything wrong at the time and this was how he was trained by his company.
“It’s important for me my integrity and my trust to come forward and cooperate with the district attorney’s office, he said. “My integrity is at question and it’s been at question in the media and I wanted to tell everybody that I wanted to come forward and I wanted to cooperate with the law and take my punches. If I did something wrong, which I apparently did in the education code, I wanted to accept it and take the punishment.”
Greene said there was a point where Amigable felt a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver requests and if he did not deliver there was a chance that the contract might be lost.
“I’m not saying that he didn’t do it, Mr. Amigable took initiative on behalf of his company,” he said. “He was an employee of the company and he was reimbursed for the expenses. This isn’t the stuff that came out of his pocket where he had his own agenda. He accepted responsibility for being in violation of the education code.”
Amigable is accepting responsibility for any mistakes he made, Greene said.
“He certainly had no idea that it was a crime but it was a crime, so he’s here to say not only do I need to be better, but I need to make sure the districts know and companies know what it is you exactly can and cannot do,” said Greene. “There’s no cap on what a private company can spend on their business expense for a bond.”
Amigable was originally charged with 18 felony and misdemeanor counts. He now faces two felonies punishable by up to six months in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for June 22. Still facing felonies are SUHD trustees Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quinones, former trustee Greg Sandoval and former superintendent Jesus Gandara. Former SWC administrator Nicholas Alioto has been charged with two felonies and former SWC architect Paul Bunton pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge. Former SWC administrator John Wilson and former SWC trustee Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez had their homes raided by the DA and could face charges in the future. Current SWC trustee Terry Valladolid accepted sizeable campaign contributions from construction firms targeted by the DA, but has not been charged. Investigators have not been able to locate former SWC superintendent Raj K. Chopra.