“We love you Pearl!” shouted several people to Pearl Quiñones inside the lobby of the downtown courthouse on January 7.
Handfuls of supporters and opponents in the alleged Sweetwater Union High School District “pay for play” scheme attended the packed courtroom on Monday for the arraignments of the school officials charged with accepting gifts in exchange for favorable votes on contracts.
Quiñones is one of five individuals charged by San Diego County district attorney Bonnie Dumanis’s office last January, along with other Sweetwater board members, its former district superintendent, and a contractor. All have maintained not-guilty pleas to charges such as perjury, filing a false instrument, bribery, and wrongful influence.
The January 7 court date included ten additional defendants in two indictments, totaling 232 charges by a grand jury. It was announced that prosecutors have more than 57,000 pages of discovery.
The ongoing investigation widened to include officials from the San Ysidro School District, Southwestern College, and a bond underwriter, according to a statement from the DA’s office. Most arraignments were put off until January 30, as at least two lawyers for the defendants later said in the lobby that they hadn’t had a chance to read the lengthy indictments.
Quiñones, a recently reelected Sweetwater Union High School District board member, also spoke to the media after the arraignment: “I’m feeling really good about it. I know I’m innocent and I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. She received loud cheers from several supporters.
Alex Anguiano, president of the Sweetwater Education Association, received applause from some other courthouse attendees after he addressed the multiple news cameras: “The reality is we have school board members that have accepted gifts in exchange for expensive projects,” he said. “Whether it’s legal or not, it’s not the right thing to do.”
The charges date from January 2007 to June 1, 2012, and include counts such as officials partaking in expensive dinners, some exceeding $1000, which were paid for by contractors without reimbursement.
According to the district attorney’s office, if convicted, defendants face fines and between six months and seven years in prison, along with possible additional penalties.