There is a connection between the Sweetwater Union High School District’s alleged corruption and Southwestern College’s. Affidavits recently unsealed by the San Diego County district attorney’s office help make those connections.
Paul Bunton, CEO of Bunton Clifford Associates (BCA), has had business with both Southwestern and Sweetwater.
In April of 2010, BCA beat out 40 other architectural firms to win in a competition to design Southwestern’s seven-acre “gateway” corner lot on Otay Lakes Road. Included in the design were plazas, a promenade, a café, a cultural center, and a bookstore.
Nicholas Alioto, at the time Southwestern’s vice president of financial affairs, said in a press release regarding BCA’s victory: “BCA set themselves above the competition by listening to our needs…”
But Alioto started listening to CEO Paul Bunton way before his company was selected.
Following the affidavit chronology, Bunton appears to have been brought over by Henry Amigable. Amigable was hired in June 2007 as the program manager for Sweetwater’s Proposition O and then in November 2009 as program manager for Southwestern’s Proposition R construction.
The following affidavit excerpts are what the D.A. office characterizes as “wining and dining.”
From November 23-25, 2009, Bunton took Southwestern’s Nicholas Alioto and program manager Henry Amigable to Pebble Beach. The affidavit reads: “Trip to Pebble Beach…Bunton hosts Amigable, Alioto and Steve Breakfield, golf, lodging, food and beverage…”
Then, on November 26, Bunton writes to Amigable to get Alioto’s contact information. Amigable writes, “Don’t worry I will help you there. You just need to figure out my BD commission for when you get this gig. Naked chick for a year sounds good…”
Bunton replies: “his comments yesterday about ‘go through the [request for proposal] process so he can make his selection’ I thought was aimed at giving him the opportunity to pick me…I can get in front of a few other people at the college to refine my design before we make our final presentation. If the design hits all of the stakeholders need to keep Nick clean, meets with his likes, then it will make it easier for him to pick me.”
Amigable responds: “Great ideas…he will still need to develop consensus with the admin, faculty and staff….He cannot be the bull in the china shop. They will fire his ass.”
Bunton responds: “Thanks Henry. Whatever you did with him was perfect. You’re like his best bud now. I’m going to continue to stay in front of him and am planning on bringing some sketches each time I meet with him to try and narrow down on the design of the corner lot with him. I get the impression if I can find the design that he wants, while I stay before him and entertain him constantly, that we’ll get the deal. Giddy-up.”
In the Sweetwater District, BCA was initially contracted in 2007 (under Amigable) for a 81,000-square-feet Gateway Complex on 30th and Highland in National City. The $30.5 million dollar project for the district entailed a 430-foot façade of wraparound transparent glass and a theater that seats 250 people. It was officially opened in August 2011.
Not unrelated to this story — Design Acquisition Corporation gave generous campaign donations to Sweetwater trustees Jim Cartmill ($2500), Arlie Ricasa ($5000), and John McCann ($3000) for their November 2010 election. Many websites, including “corporationwiki,” confirm that the head of Design Acquisitions corporation is Paul Bunton.
A reciprocal relationship between trustee Ricasa, Amigable, and Bunton is hinted at in the D.A.’s affidavit summary:
5/20/2008 — “Campaign contribution—Email from Paul Bunton, BCA to Henry Amigable. Both Bunton and Amigable claimed to have been contacted by Arlie [Ricasa] asking for more help. Amigable stated, 'Yea she hit me up too? I had to deliver 6k today.'”
In November 2011, the Southwestern governing board terminated a contract with Echo Pacific Construction. BCA continues under contract with Southwestern College.
According to the November edition of the Southwestern Sun student newspaper, “Neither Seville [Construction] nor San Jose based BCA Architects, the designers of the corner lot, were affected by the decision [to terminate Echo Pacific]."
Pictured: Former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara, singing the praises of BCA. See below.