John Wilson leaving South Bay courthouse April 12, 2013
South Bay judge Ana España and district attorney Bonnie Dumanis do not appear to be on the same page.
In a widely viewed January 2012 news report, Dumanis declared that “the widespread corruption uncovered in the South Bay is systemic and pervasive.” She continued: “Today’s charges begin the process of holding those public officials accountable for their actions.”
Former Southwestern College vice president of business affairs Nicholas Alioto and former director of business and operations John Wilson were scheduled to appear in España’s South Bay courtroom for sentencing on January 8. Alioto was unable to appear due to weather — Wilson walked away with a misdemeanor.
Wilson worked for Southwestern College for over 30 years. He oversaw construction for two bond propositions — Proposition AA and Proposition R. Wilson’s career was not without conflict.
According to a 2008 Union-Tribune article, Wilson had a romantic relationship with former trustee Yolanda Salcido. The article quotes from a 2008 grand jury investigation into the college that reads: “The administrator [Wilson] frequently brings major costly projects before the governing board,” the report says. “The trustee [Salcido] has never recused himself/herself on votes involving any of these items nor on the administrator's scope of responsibility nor on salary and benefit increases for the administrator.”
On December 29, 2011, after the district attorney’s office released transcripts from their investigation, the Reader published a story that focused on communication between former program manager Henry Amigable and Jeff Flores (the CEO of Seville Construction Services) and the part played by John Wilson:
4/30/09- “John [Wilson] is taking a low profile on everything else and will do breakfast with me and he and Yolanda Salcido [former SWC board member] will come over to my house for a bar b Que…. In the next month or two he is going to try and put the selection committee together with individuals who know me.”
6/10/09- “Just spoke to John, went really well…he said RFP [request for proposal] will be coming out very quickly just make sure we got a good proposal to him and good rates.”
7/15/09- “I worked with John Wilson on the RFP this afternoon until late…he is meeting with his new boss Nicholas Alioto tomorrow morning.… I ended up making all the changes while on campus went to print shop to get it printed and hand deliver it.”
7/22/09- “I think to start he just wants program director and one or two people. Let’s get the program the way John wants it and we will grow it later after John retires.”
9/4/09- “John Wilson from Southwestern College has asked me to put a scoring sheet for the reviewers to use when they evaluate the submitted proposals. He wanted 10 questions….”
10/7/09- “John Wilson cautioned us on dinner Thursday night, he said we need to go somewhere none of our competition sees us. He is really afraid that since this is a big deal if anyone was to see us they would report it to one of the board members since the RFP specifically states not to contact people like John or Nick. [The University] Club is too high profile to many big wigs hang out there.... I will call Morton’s today and see how private we can get…. John Wilson said between Dan [Hom, who subsequently got the public relations contract for Proposition R] and John we know half the town.”
Although initially charged with over 16 counts — including receiving a bribe, conflict of interest, filing a false instrument, perjury, conspiracy to defraud — in a December 6 readiness hearing, Wilson’s charges were reduced to a single felony.
Then, prior to the sentencing this week, Wilson’s attorney, Kevin McDermott, moved to have the felony reduced to a misdemeanor. The district attorney’s office filed arguments against the motion to reduce.
In court, McDermott argued on Wilson’s behalf that there had been “a rush to judgment.” He referred to Wilson’s long years of service and the many letters of support Wilson received from former colleagues. According to McDermott, Wilson has been giving back to the community through volunteer work since his retirement.
In the end, McDermott argued, Wilson was guilty of “an error in judgement, not necessarily an error in character.”
In a surprising moment, Carla Kirkwood, a professor at Southwestern College, asked to address the judge. She said she had initiated the investigation, that she had taken the district attorney’s office over 2000 pieces of paperwork and information gathered from at least 30 colleagues at Southwestern.
She said that while she bore no personal malice toward Wilson, the college and the students had suffered while the corruption and mismanagement took place. Kirkwood said this was more than “just an error in judgment” and that during the extended period of time while these actions were occurring, the college was put on academic probation, classes were cut, and any employees who questioned what was going on were disciplined or dismissed.
Kirkwood told the judge “punishment is supposed to be a deterrent.” She asked what message a lenient punishment would send to people who might commit such crimes and what people who could bring criminal activity to light might otherwise do.
Before sentencing, España said, “This is my community. I attended that college. I love that college and I understand that this has seriously damaged Southwestern.”
España acknowledged that Wilson had accepted gifts and help from Amigable writing the request for proposal (which ultimately got Amigable the job.)
In mitigation, however, España suggested that Wilson did not set out to destroy the college and that he had worked for the college for 30 years. Further, she argued that Wilson might not have received adequate instruction in filling out his 700 form (statement of economic interests).
España concurred with the argument that Wilson’s attorney proffered: “It was a huge error in judgement,” she said, “that lasted a number of years.”
Finally, she granted Wilson an “aggravated misdemeanor.” In addition to a $7994 fine, Wilson will have to perform 20 days of public work service and will not be allowed to work for any local schools.
Alioto’s sentencing has been moved to January 30. When asked if Alioto might also seek a misdemeanor, deputy district attorney Leon Schorr replied, “Probably.”