Two weeks after Southwestern College’s governing board suspended all contracts with Seville Construction Services and Bunton Clifford Associates (BCA), the board terminated its relationships with the two construction firms involved in a pay-for-play controversy that has so far led to 26 felony indictments of South Bay education officials. Following a closed-door session on January 25, Governing Board President Norma Hernandez made the announcement to the public.
“The board took action … to sever the contractual relationships with Seville Construction Services and BCA architects, reserving all rights of the college,” she said.
In response, Seville released a statement that read, “Seville Construction Services and Southwestern Community College District representatives are working toward a mutual solution to dissolve a contractual relationship. We believe SCS has operated and acted in good faith throughout our relationship with the district. The independent actions of individuals previously involved with the program, including a former employee who was terminated a year ago for inappropriate actions that included violation of our corporate code of conduct, are negatively affecting both organizations and the community. It is important to note that the former employee is facing criminal charges for alleged actions while employed elsewhere, not SCS, on an unrelated project, not the college district.”
Hernandez said that the board would direct staff to begin seeking Request for Proposals (RFPs) to replace Seville and BCA.
During open session, the board voted to approve and ratify contracts with several smaller contractors. Trustee Humberto Peraza said the board wanted to be able to continue working on current construction projects without Seville or BCA.
“We brought in some people that are going to be acting as stopgaps to help things go a little faster,” he said. “We’ve brought in some of the people that were working for Seville and had been laid off to act as those stopgaps between now and when we actually hire someone.”
Trustee Tim Nader agreed.
“My understanding is that the contracts we voted on in open session tonight are not backfilling for BCA or Seville,” he said.
The governing board has publicly declared its cooperation with the district attorney’s investigation and its commitment to remain as transparent as it can. Nader said part of that transparency was dealing with the delays brought about by the changes in program management and architectural design.
“As part of our action tonight we directed staff to begin preparing new RFPs precisely to minimize the delays,” he said. “With what we’ve learned internally and what the district attorney has learned we realize that some degree of delay is inevitable because of some of the things that have come to light.”
Last year San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis launched an investigation into corruption at bond-funded construction projects at SWC and Sweetwater Union High School District. It became public on December 20 when officers raided the homes of former Seville employee Henry Amigable, former SWC Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs Nicholas Alioto, and former SWC Director of Facilities John Wilson as well as four other current and former officials from Sweetwater.
On January 4, the D.A.’s office announced indictments against Amigable and Sweetwater’s Pearl Quiñones, Greg Sandoval, Jesus Gandara and Arlie Ricasa. Ricasa, SWC’s director of student development and health services, was placed on paid administrative leave by the college.
One week later, on January 11, the SWC governing board voted to suspend contracts with both Seville and BCA. On January 13, Amigable and the other four were arraigned in San Diego Superior Court. Each pled not guilty.
Nader said after the board heard from college attorneys, it voted unanimously to end those relationships.
“I am comfortable with what the board has decided to do, after listening to legal counsel,” he said.
In November 2009, a previous SWC board approved a program management contract with Pasadena-based Seville. Amigable was installed as the firm’s on-campus program manager. He held the position through December 2010 when, according to evidence provided by the District Attorney’s office, he was terminated for repeated inappropriate actions, including violations of Seville’s corporate code of conduct.
In January 2011, Amigable went to work for Escondido-based Echo Pacific Construction to provide construction management for Proposition AA work on the SWC campus. Chris Rowe, president of Echo Pacific, said Amigable was put on leave in December 2011.
For 13 months Seville contributed to re-election campaigns of governing board members Yolanda Salcido and Terri Valladolid, who awarded construction contracts to Seville and Echo Pacific. Seville also gave expensive gifts to Alioto and Wilson, SWC administrators with authority to select contractors. Wilson and Salcido were in a dating relationship at the time.
Sevillealso agreed to pay $135,000 to Prop R campaign manager Dan Hom for public relations work in an arrangement designed and approved by Alioto. Part of that contract was to “isolate and expose extremists” — those who expressed concerns or asked questions about Prop R construction and the SWC administration — and to “manage the media.” Hom has not been charged by the District Attorney.
Amigable was personally involved with funding a golf trip to Pebble Beach in November 2009 when he introduced Alioto to BCA President Paul Bunton. In April 2010 BCA was awarded a $55 million contract to provide architectural design for the corner lot project. In June, Amigable, Bunton and Echo Pacific’s Rowe accompanied Alioto to Napa for a wine and golf weekend won during a silent auction at the “Havana Nights” gala hosted by the Southwestern College Education Foundation. The next month, Echo Pacific was awarded a $4 million construction management contract. SWC’s Educational Foundation is the subject of an extensive internal investigation ordered by the governing board in April 2011. Trustees said they expect to release the report this month.
Following Amigable’s termination, Seville hired Bob DeLiso to oversee SWC’s Prop R construction. DeLiso had worked as a program manager for bond-funded construction on two of nine Los Angeles Community College campuses – – a boondoggle of overspending and construction mismanagement that was exposed in a six-part Los Angeles Times investigation in March 2011 titled “Billions to Spend.” DeLiso remained Seville’s SWC project manager until the suspension began last month.
Calls and e-mails to Seville’s San Diego office and corporate office were not returned. Calls and e-mails to BCA’s San Diego office and San Jose corporate office were not returned.