Chopra, Dominguez, Salcido Indicted as Corruption Case Widens

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Arlie Ricasa, Sweetwater Union High School District trustee and Southwestern College’s EOPS director
Photos byMarshall Murphy

Former Southwestern College Superintendent Raj Kumar Chopra and former trustees Jorge Dominguez and Yolanda Salcido have joined four other current and former college leaders as defendants in a widening corruption case that now involves 15 people from three South Bay school districts.

A San Diego County grand jury handed down 232 criminal charges against elected officials and school contractors in what has become known as the “South Bay Corruption Scandal,” an investigation San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis called the largest of its kind in county history.

Fifteen defendants were summoned to Superior Court for arraignment Monday afternoon, six who had previously been charged and nine who were new to the indictments. The grand jury investigation resulted in indictments of administrators from Southwestern College, Sweetwater Union High School District and the San Ysidro School District.

Chopra, Salcido and Dominguez join Nicholas Alioto, John Wilson, Greg Sandoval and Arlie Ricasa as defendants with SWC connections. Chopra, Alioto, Salcido, Dominguez and Wilson were charged with crimes for actions related to SWC. Former interim superintendent Sandoval and current EOPS director Ricasa are accused of criminal activity as Sweetwater trustees. Sandoval is no longer on the SUHSD board. He currently works as an administrator at Moreno Valley Community College.

Each of the six defendants previously indicted and arraigned had additional criminal counts leveled against them. Alioto, former SWC vice president of business and finance, now has been charged with at least 11 counts. Wilson, the former director of facilities, is now charged with at least 16 counts. Ricasa is now facing at least 33 counts.

Sweetwater trustees Jim Cartmill and Bertha Lopez joined existing defendants Pearl Quiñones, Sandoval, Ricasa and Jesus Gandara. The new indictments now include all five members of the 2006-10 SUHSD board, as well as Gandara, the former superintendent. San Ysidro district superintendent Manuel Paul and board member Yolanda Hernandez were also charged. Rounding out the 15 are Jeff Flores, president of Seville Construction Services, and financier and underwriter Gary Cabello. Flores was involved with multiple projects on the SWC campus and is the former employer of Henry Amigable, who has already pleaded guilty to a pair of misdemeanors. Cabello helped finance municipal school bonds and calculate their impact on SWC and Sweetwater taxpayers.

Twelve of the 15 defendants appeared before Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walsh. Hernandez failed to appear. There was no explanation for her absence. Chopra and Alioto also failed to appear. Defense lawyers said Chopra is in Texas suffering from ill health. Alioto is reportedly in Wisconsin, worried about further legal entanglements. Both Chopra and Alioto are required to appear in person January 30 or be subject to arrest warrants.

Jorge Dominguez, former Southwestern College governing board member

Though the arraignment process was scheduled for Monday, lawyers for the defendants were granted a postponement until January 30 to allow time for defendants and their legal teams to peruse nearly 50,000 pages of grand jury indictment transcripts, which are expected within a week.

All defendants were released on their own recognizance. Following are the charges against the defendants with SWC connections:

  • Raj Kumar Chopra, at least 13 counts, including receiving a bribe, conflict of interest, filing a false instrument, perjury by declaration, and accepting gifts in excess of the legal amount.
  • Nicholas Alioto, at least 11 counts, including conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to commit a crime, perjury by declaration, receiving a bribe, wrongful influence, filing a false instrument and accepting gifts in excess of the legal amount.
  • John Merrill Wilson, at least 16 counts, including conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to commit a crime, receiving a bribe, filing a false instrument, wrongful influence, conflict of interest and accepting gifts in excess of the legal amount.
  • Yolanda Salcido, at least 13 counts, including perjury by declaration, filing a false instrument, conflict of interest, receiving a bribe, accepting a bribe by a member of the legislature, wrongful influence and accepting gifts in excess of the legal amount.
  • Jorge Dominguez, at least 15 counts, including conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to commit a crime, perjury by declaration, filing a false statement, conflict of interest, accepting a bribe by a member of the legislature, wrongful influence and accepting gifts in excess of the legal amount.
  • Arlie Ricasa, at least 33 counts, including extortion, conspiracy to commit a crime, receiving a bribe, filing a false instrument, accepting a bribe by a member of the legislature, conflict of interest, wrongful influence, perjury by declaration and accepting gifts in excess of the legal amount.
  • Greg Sandoval, at least 33 counts, including extortion, conspiracy to commit a crime, conspiracy to defraud, accepting a bribe by a member of the legislature, receiving a bribe, filing a false instrument, perjury by declaration, conflict of interest, wrongful influence and accepting gifts in excess of the legal amount.

 

Yolanda Salcido, former Southwestern College governing board member

Sitting SWC trustee Terri Valladolid, who was on the board with Salcido and Dominquez, and was a staunch supporter of Chopra and Alioto, has not been charged. She has joined the current board majority, which has been cooperating with the district attorney’s investigation. Jean Roesch, the fourth member of the 4-1 pro-Chopra majority of 2006-10, has also not been charged. Roesch did not run for re-election in 2012 and is off the board.

SWC Chief Public Information Officer Lillian Leopold issued a statement after the hearing that reaffirmed the college’s sweeping policy and procedural changes over the past two years to end the “pay-for-play” culture. A new governing board majority restored the college’s accreditation and swept out more than a dozen administrators, including Alioto.

“Southwestern College has taken great strides to improve its business practices and increase the level of transparency throughout the college district,” said board president Humberto Peraza. “We have put procedures in place to ensure this does not happen again.”

Last March, new college president Dr. Melinda Nish and the board cancelled all Proposition R construction contracts involving construction firms with representatives under indictment.

(Left) Greg Sandoval, former SUHSD board member and former Southwestern College interim superintendent

John Wilson, former Southwestern College facilities director

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23 Comments

  1. Chris Cecil on

    At a time when the economy of California is greatly suffering under high taxes and business restrictions, this kind of corruption is deadly. As a former college teacher, I can say that this kind of corrpution is not just limited to Southwestern, but has infected most of the large districts around California. If this kind of corruption could be stopped, California would discover that there are more than enough finances available for a top-notch system of education, but real excellence in California will only happen when the government gives up control and its damaging agenda and allows student and parental choice through the option of using governement paid vouchers that can be used in both private and public schools.

  2. This is what happens to people when they get greedie and then get caught they must pay for what they have done or have not done will wait to see what happens in court. this sure does not help the college they were suppose to take care off and provide support for all.

  3. Peach Stealing Monkey on

    I woUld say it’s about time but—————————— IT’S ABOUT TIME! This was one of the biggest “who-dun-it” in college history. It was so obvious but all the time these people thought employees were so stupid not to see it. BAM! Who’s your daddy!

  4. Peter Bolland on

    Nickolas, another great job chronicling what is a dark and difficult time at Southwestern College and in the South Bay. Your work will serve as a clear and cogent history of this confusing case. Looking forward to more of your quality work as this story plays out.

  5. Shocked Former Employee on

    This is shocking; I know these folks some of the charges rock me to the core. What is more shocking is that at least one current Board member is not included. As a former SWC President she must be at least as involved as any of the others. Ms. teflon is not really going to get to skate away again, is she?

  6. El Estudiante on

    If only they would follow similar indictments on much worse white collar crimes such as that of Bernanke of the Federal Reserve; he had enough money to buy himself and his little friends out of trouble using our money…money they print out of thin air.

    • Allen C. Morse III on

      Sounds like another CONSERVATIVE living in his DREAMWORLD which lacks anything close to reality! You don’t like The Fed because it prervents you frfom cheating like these people did! Time to realize Conservative values are OUT in the USA finally! Good bye, good riddance!

      • Leatherneck on

        What the hell does Bernanke have to do with conservative values.Get a clue,this obamam chararter is gone in 4 years.He is a socialist and has a bunch of followers who are more stupid than he is.

  7. I wonder how it will affect not only the prestige of the school but all teachers and students.

  8. Jakjajajaj that’s what they freaken get. U act so greedy u get caught. Play n miss with our kids future u get screwed at the end. Jajjajajajaj u got served and caught dumb a$$es lesson learn don’t take bribes. Don’t mess with our children’s future . U had fun played ur game now be a big person that u are and serve ur freaking time. Greedy people hajj aha they took ur Tvs and other stuff u bought. Stupid people jajajajjajajaj who is next.

  9. Nickolas Furr on

    Peter, thanks for that comment. I really appreciate it. But I’m going to use this moment to point out that I’m just the guy who wrote this one — it’s the Sun itself that has written the history. And when something comes up like this, the Sun — unlike many other papers — works as a team.

    This time, I was there, but so were many others. Lina did the hard work of reading all those complaints. Marshall Murphy, Serina Duarte, and Albert Fulcher did photos inside — with David McVicker and Kasey Thomas working outside and downstairs. And Thomas Baker and Ana Bahena were there backing everyone up.

    I love the compliment, but I’d like to share it with everyone. I suspect once I’m gone, and once everyone there now is gone, the Sun will STILL be writing the history of malfeasance at SWC.

    But to be honest, I hope there’s no need to.

  10. I am so glad someone is writing about this. Everyone should be aware of this kind of corruption especially when you are a student at SWC. This kind of selfish and greedy acts by the administration really hurts the reputation of SWC! Shame on all of them! They should all go to jail and pay restitution for their actions!

  11. Norman Runge on

    Chopra was crooked when he was superintendent in Shawnee Mission, Kansa. Had a sweetheart deal with IBM to set up district with outdated Model 70’s. Council Bluffs, Iowa sent him down the river on a garbage skow. Needs to be in jail.

  12. Allen C. Morse III on

    WOW! Arlie Ricassa was involved too! I thought her a nice caring person when I was attending! It looks as though the ENTIRE ADMINISTRATION was crooked! Maybe this is why I STILL cannot get the classes I need to get my AA degree completed! Thye next question is whether my degree will be worth anything when I get it? Southwestern College is a beautiful campus, so sad that it had such a rotten group running it!

    • You can’t get the classes you want not because of this show trial, but because the state of California is a Unionacracy with the teachers leading the way with huge salaries and pensions that the taxpayers are on the hook for. They’ve deceived all of you, bunch of useful idiots who back them up while they bleed your future dry moron. They’ve successfully brainwashed you into thinking it’s the business community to blame when in fact it’s the public employee union racket that’s killing your class schedule and future, the professors are all laughing at morons like you but just wait until people catch onto the game.

  13. Great job to the journalists and photojournalists from The Sun. The training you have obtained from Dr. Max Branscomb concerning the highest of ethical behavior must spread to all educational leaders not only at SWC but throughout the Southbay including Sweetwater High School District and the San Ysidro Elementary School District. These school board members should exhibit a love for doing the right thing so that their students, staff, and parents would be proud to have elected them. This is not the case when 15 members have been indicted for wrongful behavior.

  14. Leatherneck on

    Since we are talking about greed,look at what this prez is doing to our future retirements.People believe that he the greatest thing since sliced bread,who do you think we owe the majority of our debt to?Ourselves,our retiremnets,our 401k’s which at 16 and 18 trillion you will probably never see.All done under the watch of Bernanke,obama and all his cronnies!

    • Leatherneck, you need to read more and watch less Fox News. Take a deep breath and realize your redneck mentality is only a minor inconvenience in finding a unique and independent thought.

  15. Leatherneck on

    The real crime here is that these people have been doing this for quite some time.Have you ever been to the Sweetwater district office,these people are more concerned about what is going on this weekend and whos turn is it for break than actually making a 100% honest days work for an honest days pay.I am glad they got caught,FINALLY,send the whole lot of them to jail.I thought it was disgusting of them to right away claim it was because they were hispanic and then want us to pay their legal fees.Isn’t that what a socio-path does,never takes responsibility for their actions of any sort.They are pathetic and belong in jail with their relatives!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. I’m not surprised. South Bay Union School District et.al has been corrupt for some time now. At least 35 years as I know it. I use to work there but it was extremely racially and financially corrupt, They were self serving and money hungry people working at a higher level with their own bucket of self indulgence.

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