By Lina Chankar
Southwestern College (SWC) EOPS Director Arlie Ricasa pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor in the South Bay corruption case and resigned from her position on the Sweetwater Union High School District Board of Trustees.
Ricasa, who faced 33 criminal counts, including 16 felonies, will avoid prison by admitting to a single count of filing a false instrument.
Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr said Ricasa made the following admission of guilt:
“I received, reviewed, understood and biannually voted on Sweetwater’s conflict of interest code delineating the Form 700 reporting requirements sent to the Sweetwater Board by the Superintendent. In 2009, I was an elected School Board Member for the Sweetwater Union High School District. I accepted gifts from Rene Flores (SGI) in 2009 with a value of $2,099 and I did not report them. The maximum amount one may lawfully receive from one source per year is $420. Rene Flores provided these gifts with the intent to influence my vote on business awarded to Seville Group Inc.”
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis originally charged Ricasa with the most counts of any of the 15 people indicted in the sweeping corruption case. According to a D.A. Affidavit For Search Warrant, Ricasa had accepted the following items:
1) $1,741.70 – Dinner and wine with her husband Ed Bagaporo, and SGI President Rene Flores.
2) $313.18 – Amigable for dinner with her husband.
3) $3,600 – SGI contribution to Ricasa’s campaign for State Assembly District 78.
4) $13,600 – From SGI for various political campaigns in 2007 through 2010.
5) $1,380.22 – From Henry Amigable to “wine and dine.”
6) $208.78 – Dinner with Amigable on May 12, 2007.
7) $132.98 – Dinner with her husband and Amigable.
8) $3,600 – Contributions from SGI for 2008 State Assembly campaign in June 2007.
9) $1,800 – SGI paid for the sponsorship of Ricasa’s daughter, Natalie Bagaporo, for Leadership Council in July 2009.
10) $5,000 – from SGI for campaign contributions in Sept. 2010.
11) $5,000 – from SGI for campaign contributions in Oct. 2010.
These and other gifts and contributions need to be reported on California Form 700, Schorr said. Ricasa failed to report any gifts or other reportable interest in 2008 and 2010, which is signed under penalty of perjury. The D.A. affidavit stated that Ricasa, trustee Pearl Quinones, trustee Greg Sandoval and superintendent Jesus Gandara all violated the California Political Reform Act Government Code section (8711-91014).
After a lengthy investigation that included raids on their homes, defendants were accused of bribery, perjury, conflict of interest, filing false instrument, offering a thing of value to a member of government and conspiracy to defraud another of property.
After Ricasa’s guilty plea, Schorr said that in every case there is the potential to negotiate an agreement to settle the case without going to trial.
Ricasa’s supervisor, SWC dean Beatrice Zamora-Aguilar, said Ricasa is a dedicated educational professional who cares about students.
“I trust her judgment,” Zamora said. “All of the work she does, anything that has to do with any kind of reporting and budgeting, I provide oversight to. I’m a very careful and meticulous manager and I feel comfortable with any of the information she puts forward.”
Schorr said he is moving forward with the case against other Sweetwater officials and the D.A. is prepared to go to trial.
Dumanis did not return phone calls for a comment.
SWC President Dr. Melinda Nish said she referred the matter to the acting vice president of human resources Lynn Solomita and the college’s legal counsel to see if the guilty plea has an impact on Ricasa’s $125,000 position.
“It was in her capacity as a Sweetwater elected official that the violation occurred,” said Nish. “Unless there is some nexus with her employment here, it has no bearing on her employment. So I’m asking for both HR and legal advice, and that’s where we’re at with it.”
Nish said if any disciplinary action is taken it would be a personnel and confidential matter and would not be discussed publicly. She said she would like to see Sweetwater issues put to rest.
“I’m really pleased that Southwestern has done a lot of work to clean up what it does and how it does it,” she said. “Sweetwater is our educational partner and I would hope the sooner they get their business cleaned up the better for all of us in the South Bay. So I’m looking forward to this coming to closure.”