Walter Mencken 1 p.m., May 1
Grand Jury investigation transcripts for South Bay school districts released
As the wheel turns
Pictured: Bonifacio Garcia, Diane Russo and Lillian Leopold
Transcripts of the grand jury's November-December investigation into alleged corruption between some South Bay trustees, administrators, and contractors were released May 28. There are 28 volumes of witness testimony; some of the volumes are still being redacted and unavailable to the public. However, the material available pulls the curtain back on the "pay-to-play culture."
Due to the extensive testimony, the public will receive the information in bits and pieces. The investigation precedes the trial of 15 individuals who have served or currently serve as trustees to or employees of Southwestern College, Sweetwater Union High School District and San Ysidro school district. The trial is set for February 18, 2014.
While the grand jury inquiry and resulting indictments lay the groundwork for the San Diego district attorney's case, the testimonies offer peeks behind the scenes and inform everyone how the public's business was conducted.
For example, one of the witnesses was Bonifacio Garcia. Garcia was part of a firm, Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz, that worked for Sweetwater Union High School District and for Southwestern College.
Garcia worked for Sweetwater from 1996-2012. Initially he was with the firm Burke, Williams and Sorensen and in 2006 was employed by Sweetwater through Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz. Both firms enjoyed million dollar contracts with Sweetwater.
Garcia, Calderon, and Ruiz helped elect several Sweetwater trustees through a political PAC called Committee for Good Government in the South Bay.
Here's how Bonifacio "Bonny" Garcia explains his firm's role to the grand jury and to deputy district attorney Leon Schorr:
"Okay. First and foremost, um, my belief is that you maintain clients by providing quality work. And I just have to make that really clear....Um, that said, in particularly, when you are representing government officials, you have to deal with elections. And so we support our friends. Let's put it that way. Um, as you work with people over a long period of time, you develop a relationship with folk and there are folk you like and folk you don't like. And you want to support your friends in terms of especially breaking bread, or, um, spending--spending time with folk.
"And so it is a practice of all businesses, I am not--most businesses--um, especially representing school districts to entertain. And that includes, um, the biggest event of the year. For instance, there is a CSBA [California School Boards Association] conference. That is either in San Francisco or in San Diego. And that is a--that is a conference where you go mix, mingle, and, um, um many vendors will do dinners, um um, and that's part of business development. You will--there are full board dinners or, um, receptions, you know, where individual board members--they have what they call, for instance, um there is a conference going on right now in LA. Um, tonight is the reception ...where different companies will have a hospitality suite. People come in, food, drink, whatever. Um, they do that. That's in addition to, um, you know, whatever, um dinners, or, and in many cases ball games, um, or events that give a business person an opportunity to spend time. Not talking business, but spending time with the client....you really want your client to be your friend..."
Later Garcia was asked by Schorr: "Do you as part of business development and maintaining the relationships, do you support causes that are important to your elected officials?"
Garcia answers: "No question about that. Um, one of them are charitable events, which are a big, um, a category. In fact, it's a preferred category, um for us, because, you know, so um, for instance, um at Sweetwater it would be the Mariachi Scholarship Foundation. So a charity, um, any kind of different, um charity. Um, not too much political..."
More bits and pieces from the transcripts to follow. Stay tuned.
More like this:
- South Bay judge upholds majority of indictments in pay-to-play — Oct. 10, 2013
- Sweetwater underwriters reel in the big one — a grand jury indictment — Aug. 28, 2013
- Judge to release grand jury transcripts in alleged corruption cases — May 25, 2013
- Calexico Unified School District's Similarities with Sweetwater — Jan. 16, 2012
- Sweetwater Union High School District Money Trail Gets Longer — June 7, 2011