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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.

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anniej Dec. 30, 2011 @ 5:58 p.m.

so tell me my fellow citizens - why on earth would design acquisition contribute money to john mccann? he was a first time candidate for the sweetwater school board - why didn't bunton drop those thousands into karen janney's campaign account - also a first time candidate. i am thinking it was because ms. janney is a person of absolute impeccable integrity who can/could not be bought at any price.

besides she is not cartmill's best friend, john mccannn is!!!!!!!!!!

has the relationship that these contractors, such as bunton, had with 'the gandara' ended? surely superintendent brand is not involved with them, right?


angryinsb Dec. 30, 2011 @ 6:33 p.m.

Miss Lazarro deserves a Pulitzer prize for her articles. She writes with such clarity and superbly gives justice to all the facts so that the public can actually understand the amount of dishonest and alleged illegal behavior that goes on in these two districts. Thank you Ms. Lazarro you are a tribute to your craft and are very much appreciated! Thank you


anniej Dec. 30, 2011 @ 7:22 p.m.

angryinsb: you are so right - it is amazing how much she is able to cover in such a small amount of space.

hats off to ms. luzzaro and the reader.


SurfPuppy619 Dec. 30, 2011 @ 6:57 p.m.

'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…”"

Mark my words, this guy is going to be in the Joint for 5-10 years when this is over.......I am shocked that this idiot would be doing this, and even more shocked he would leave a paper trial of it.


anniej Dec. 30, 2011 @ 7:24 p.m.

the night i read that pdf it was LATE..... i had to read it 3x to be sure i was reading right.

some real classy 'professionals' our board members were wining and dining with - NOT. but then you know what they say about birds of a feather - they do flock together don't they?


anniej Dec. 30, 2011 @ 7:21 p.m.

what was that 'the gandara' was quoted as saying about 'bringing them to the table' - and how much money was spent at that table at those fine eating establishments?


cvres Dec. 30, 2011 @ 7:24 p.m.

Good grief. I don't really see how Sweetwater board, or the superintendent they voted in can go on. Why should the public have to pay for a costly recall when the facts are out there? McCann and Cartmill are obviously part of the play. Where's the da search on those two?


SurfPuppy619 Dec. 30, 2011 @ 7:29 p.m.

Former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara is about as self serving as it comes.....................


anniej Dec. 30, 2011 @ 8:48 p.m.

and so this evening YET ANOTHER ROBO CALL from superintendent brand. pledging to do whatever it takes to clean up our district of any real or perceived irregularities (paraphrasing).

dr. brand, we the parents do have faith in our teachers, we even have faith in the majority of our administrators. it is our board and you dr brand that we have lost faith in. you promised to weed out what was wrong but what did you do instead? you sent the principal and ap who had allegedly 'borrowed' about $98,000.00 worth of asb funds on their way - skipping down the yellow brick road - with vacation pay in one hand and sick pay in another. you sent the person in charge of food services down that same yellow brick road. - you promised to clean up food services and yet there are persons in the district still who paid others $400 to take tests for them because they do not have the ability to do so. you attempted to cover up the manipulation of test scores. we are still in program improvement, and since you have been brought on board we now have added yet another school to the states watch list - hilltop high. you let the cookie monster eat the remaining $55 million dollars of prop o monies. you attempted to hurt those students enrolled in charter schools. you started some new 'foundation' and the consultant YOU HIRED to run it wants no paper trail. when members of the community called for a change in the by laws regarding a $500 limitation on campaign funds FROM ALL SOURCES, you took out the contractors/vendors and then sat there and watched while the board took no action to clean up their own act. you continually allowed john mccann to bore us with his bio at each, every, and all functions he attended. you failed to look into the prop o concerns, choosing instead to jump on board. you have warned us of the deep cuts in teachers yet you want to bring 350 450 chinese students into the district. you want to build a university even though you and the board have failed to give our students the education or educational dollars they so rightfully deserve.

so, in closing no we do not trust that the board or you will look out for the best interests of our children.

just my humble opinion


Sjtorres Dec. 30, 2011 @ 10:25 p.m.

Kudos to Susan Luzzaro! Now the question, why has the CURRENT board at Southwestern decided to keep Seville construction on contract? Pearl Quinones, Arlie Ricasa, John Wilson, Terri Valladolid, and the rest of these elected officials need to be indicted criminally. Oh, and same thing is happening at the Otay Water District. Gandara also needs to be indicted.


Susan Luzzaro Dec. 31, 2011 @ 2:25 p.m.

Thank you to commenters who are nominating me :-) and sending me kudos.

Happy New Year to all, here's hoping the South Bay can find its way out of these woes. Susan


CV_Parent Jan. 1, 2012 @ 1:35 p.m.

I just don’t understand why Cartmill and McCann were not search? Did they report all their donations from District vendors? Why is the news not digging into why McCann will not release the Vega report? We have a right to it and why won’t he give it to us? They ALL need to step down it is going to be a joke at the next board meeting.


Susan Luzzaro Jan. 1, 2012 @ 5:25 p.m.

CV Parent, I have heard many people voice the same concerns about which board members' houses were searched and which were not.

It seems like it would be an important move to make the Vega report available to the public, for the board to not have the appearance of trying to hide anything. Trust is at an all time low. Reminder for others, the Vega Report was requested by John McCann to look into Scott Alevy and his PR meetings. Some have expressed the opinion that the meetings look like election tampering.

I have heard the board meeting is in January but I don't know the exact date yet. It would be useful to post time and place on blogs.


DamnStraight Jan. 1, 2012 @ 10:18 p.m.

For those of you who missed it, this past Friday evening on Dec. 30, Superintendent Brand left a "robo call" message with SUHSD parents, the text of which follows;

"Hello, this is Ed Brand, Superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District. Recently, there's been a lot of news about our district and I want to assure you we will do everything in our power to address the problems identified. We know you place your trust in our ability to do what's right for your children and our students. We take very seriously as we move forward to improve student achievement throughout the district.

I've spent five decades in the district in various capacities, and those of you that know me understand the special place the district has in my heart. It is much more than an organization, it is a reflection of America's promise to its youth. My sincere pledge to you is that our teachers, staff, and administrators will continue to focus on providing all of our students a world-class education.

As we return to start the second semester, we will move aggressively to address all the real and perceived problems in the district. I will work with the outstanding employees who serve your children to clean up any and all sources that have cast doubt on our district's reputation.

Thank you for your ongoing support as we move forward in our quest to improve the quality of life for residents of all South County.

Thank you and good night."


anniej Jan. 2, 2012 @ 3:47 p.m.

we will move 'aggressively'? to address all real and perceived? problems in the district.

with all due respect damnstraight - i was under the impression that this is why he was brought on board 6 MONTHS AGO. we are now in month 7 - and what has he done?

i addressed an opinion above regarding what he has done.

the action he has personally taken regarding his 'foundation' - the 'consultant' that HE brought into the district who allegedly stated "i do NOT WANT A PAPER TRAIL". the fact that two respected community members have questioned the actions of said 'foundation'. now doesn't that about wrap it up???? these gentlemen have nothing to loose by taking their said actions and yet everything to gain - yes, i typed that correctly, because what they have to gain is this - their commitment to the education of the students - NOT THEIR COMMITMENT TO RAISE MONEY, WITHOUT A PAPER TRAIL.

there is something we are darnstraight about also - WE WANT OUR DISTRICT BACK= we want the emphasis on educational improvements not back door dealings which the DA has more than enough proof to prove the existence of. have you read the emails, have you reviewed the receipts, have you noticed the correlation between the dinners, favors, shows and the very votes our board took on the contractors they were being courted by?

the south bay no longer supports the board, including the superintendent. there was a point when i believed that with 'the gandara' gone the board would begin to travel down a different road. i believed in the superintendents pledge to the community the evening he took office - as reported by the ut. i thought 'wow, finally'. apparently i was wrong.

when i read the PDF in the ut that showed the financials of the pepsi dealings. when i saw the amount of money paid in commissions, when i saw the amount given to the superintendent to be spent as his DISCRETION ???????. why wasn't EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY PENNY SPENT IN THE CLASSROOM????????????????????????? when i heard about the new asb set up that was used. when i learned that the ONLY person involved in the many scandals at sweetwater who was 'punished' was someone who merely reported a wrong doing. well, i think i have outlined the basis for my opinions.


SWC_Teacher Jan. 3, 2012 @ 3:40 p.m.

BCA's plans for the Southwestern College corner lot included a cafe and a bookstore. But Prop R, which provides the construction money for this project, excludes any retail establishments.

So who didn't do his homework? The architect? Saville? Nick Alioto?


anniej Jan. 3, 2012 @ 5:01 p.m.

and to think the reason they hired seville was because they wanted 'experts' managing the bond monies. oh, they managed them alright they managed them right into the campaign coffers of john mccann, jim cartmill, arlie ricasa, pearl quinones, and lopez. now about all of those dinners seville and the rest managed to pay. jersey boys, 'the gandara' was taken twice - on our bond money dime.

and dr. brand is of the opinion we are going to pass yet another bond - he will be waiting til hell freezes over. but it is really of no matter to him, here for three years and then he is gone, or so he hopes.

the board, they need to be sent the message at the next board meeting STEP DOWN.

here is a challenge for our board members, remember when they refused to even discuss limiting their campaign contributions, well here is the challenge - take the time to sign onto the registrar of voters website - please research the campaign contributions to bonnie dumanis last campaign. there were VERY FEW $1,000.00 donations. the majority 100, 250, several 500. BUT I DID NOT SEE EVEN A ONE FROM SEVILLE or any company or individual with totals of $20,000.00 or $30,000.00 - so what say you now board members of the sweetwater union high school district? why were the prop o contractors and management company dropping in those huge sums for you? john mccann, they did not even know you, or did they?


the decisions you made via your votes while on this board will define you and what you are all about. the information in the union tribune pdf's are shameful, and yes we have read them - each and every disgusting line.

we are in this for the long haul. it is time for you to step down in the best interests of the students and taxpayers.

we will demand you step down we will fight against- sweetwater u we will fight against - dr. brands foundation - there will be no replay of the pepsi contract we will fight for a superintendent search we will fight for campaign reform which includes campaign limitations of $500.00 for ANY company or individual. we will fight for changes in the rfp process - i.e. ANY/ALL monetary expenditures MUST be made public - sorry, i realize this will inhibit all of those lunches, dinners, etc. and we are looking to fight for term limits


and when we have accomplished all of the above, we will then be there to assure that all new board members and superintendents work and act in a true transparent manner.


Visduh Jan. 3, 2012 @ 8 p.m.

In other parts of the US, the FBI will investigate and arrest perps who engage in low-level corrupt practices in the five-figure range. So, after all this blatant corrupt activity has gone on in a big city environment, involving more than a half-billion dollars, why have we heard nothing from the feds? These local corrupt practices are also federal offenses. When Bahnee stood on the sidelines for years, not investigating the crooks in SUHSD and SW College, where were the feds? Inquiring minds want to know.


anniej Jan. 3, 2012 @ 8:24 p.m.

so it is now being reported that 'the gandara' has hired pfingst as his attorney, and according to his retirement benefit package guess who will be paying mr. pfingst, ah that would be us folks. yes, the board, you know the same persons whose homes were just searched, well it appears that part of 'the gandara's' golden parachute was a defense fund. yes, you read that right. he was sent packing, he is now being investigated because he, 'the gandara' WITH ALL OF HIS EDUCATION, did not know how to fill out the correct forms. did he even bother to report any of those alleged meals, shows, hotels, or gold outings????? he allegedly benefitted from our bond tax dollars, our state tax dollars, and our federal dollars AND WE HAVE TO PAY FOR HIS DEFENSE. how much will we have to pay? part of it or all of it? will we have to pay for it all?

oh, but before you get too outraged - prepare yourself, what do you bet the board votes the same package in for themselves.

it is up to us folks, we can sit back, or we can show up at the next board meeting and demand that they step down now BEFORE THEY VOTE THEMSELVES A DEFENSE FUND.


Susan Luzzaro Jan. 3, 2012 @ 8:07 p.m.

SWC Teacher, your call seems accurate. What lies behind the new revisions for the corner lot and how many tax dollars have been wasted on a plan that was never in line with Proposition R? This is a BIG question because how many people were involved in making and presenting the plan.


Susan Luzzaro Jan. 3, 2012 @ 8:09 p.m.

Visduh, Your point is well taken. Many people are looking for FBI involvement, for more than one reason.


Visduh Jan. 3, 2012 @ 8:54 p.m.

Could this be that a Dem Prez and a Dem administration don't really want to investigate a corrupt border zone school district? Who knows what might pop out of the woodwork.


anniej Jan. 3, 2012 @ 9:01 p.m.

regardless of where it lies, corruption needs to be weeded out


something_stinks Jan. 9, 2012 @ 9:05 a.m.

I'm an architect with one of the firms who was not selected to do the corner parcel project. There were 7 other firms besides BCA that participated in a design competition for this project. Design competitions are extremely costly endeavors. Our firm spent tens of thousands of dollars pursuing this sham. I assume the other non-winning firms spent a comparable sum. Most of these firms are small businesses, so this wasn't exactly chump change. The decision to spend this money was based on a business decision founded on the belief that there was a level playing field and that the best design would truly win. I know this sounds like sour grapes, but BCA's design was far from the best. There were several proposals that were far more appropriate than BCA's.

I beleive that each of these firms, as well as the construction management firms that were vying for the bond program management contract, have legal recourse with the College. Normally the cost of pursuing these projects is assumed to be a normal cost of business, however the College knowingly enticed firms into spending money pursuing work that these firms had zero chance of winning just so that the College could create the illusion of a fair process. I think these firms should all go after the College for their costs and let the College recoup that money from Alioto, Amigable and John Wilson.


Twister Jan. 10, 2012 @ 6:50 p.m.

This is the way the public business has long been conducted in San Diego and elsewhere, all the way to DC. I too have spent thousands preparing highly creative and unique proposals, only to have them handed over to the fair-haired boys and girls who had the contract in the bag from the start. I never "donated" a cent to any political campaign throughout the 21 years I was in business, but I was willing to live on the lean side all that time. I was naive enough to believe that professionalism requires that one put the work ahead of the buck, but that naivety is seriously swimming against the flow of political sewage.

I only participated on one suit against a governmental entity; I won, but the taxpayers lost--they got it in the shorts when Orange County went broke, then again when they had to foot the bill for the county's legal fees in defending the suit. Such cases should never have to be brought in the first place, but our system "requires" it. But after all, it's the creation of lawyers, and lawyers, like stock brokers, always win whether or not their client loses (except when those few who take contingency cases, bless 'em).

The ENTIRE system is FIXED, from top to bottom.


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