Saturday, April 13, 2013

Former Southwestern College Superintendent Appears in Court

Chopra arrives at court / Photo by: Marshall Murphy
*By Nickolas Furr and Lina Chankar

Former Southwestern College superintendent Raj K. Chopra appeared in San Diego County Superior Court today, his first public appearance since the district attorney began serving search warrants and issuing indictments in December 2011. Chopra arrived with a small group that included his driver, his son and his attorney, Michael Attanasio.

Chopra joined 11 other defendants in court this morning for the final steps of the arraignment proceedings in the trial now known as the South Bay Corruption Case. Each defendant or their attorney pleaded “not guilty” and denied all allegations.

Chopra did not appear for court dates in January, February or March. His lawyers cited “depression” and “ill health” for his absences. Now a resident of Houston, Chopra said nothing to the media and spectators outside the courthouse.

Attanasio said that Chopra is ready to defend himself.

“Dr. Chopra looks forward to his day in court,” Attanasio said, “and looks forward to having the opportunity of presenting his side of the story.”

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has filed 232 criminal charges against 15 elected officials, school administrators and contractors in three school districts in what she has called the largest corruption case of its kind in San Diego County history. Charges include multiple counts of extortion, accepting bribes, perjury, conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to commit a crime.

Defendants with SWC connections include Chopra, former trustees Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez, former vice president of business and finance Nicholas Alioto, former facilities director John Wilson, former interim superintendent Greg Sandoval and current director of EOPS Arlie Ricasa. Sandoval is currently an administrator at Moreno Valley College.

Sandoval and Ricasa were indicted for alleged criminal activities at the Sweetwater Union High School District. Sandoval is a former trustee and Ricasa is a current member of the board.

Also on trial are SUHSD trustees Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez and Pearl Quinones, former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara, former San Ysidro School District superintendent Manuel Paul, San Ysidro trustee Bertha Hernandez, Seville Construction Services Jeff Flores and financier Gary Cabello, who helped to finance municipal school bonds for both districts.