A crumpled paper towel fished from the trash of a men’s bathroom led to the arrest of a Twin Rivers Unified School District trustee late Tuesday.
Cortez Quinn, 46, faces multiple felony counts after allegedly conspiring to falsify his paternity test and illegally receiving loans from a school district employee. A DNA sample from a paper towel Quinn used at Twin Rivers district headquarters in August has given prosecutors reason to believe he manipulated a previous genetics test to deny he fathered a child with a former district employee.
Quinn had just come out of a board meeting at Foothill High School at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday when three sheriff’s deputies approached him at his car. The arrest came after his actions sparked three separate lawsuits and a $14,000 fine levied against Quinn by the California Fair Political Practices Commission in the last year. All stemmed from his relationship with Sherilene Chycoski, a performing and visual arts director at the school district.
Prosecutors alleged Wednesday that the school board trustee borrowed more than $50,000 and received $4,000 in gifts from Chycoski. It is illegal for school board members to borrow money from district employees, and he faces felony counts for accepting and failing to report loans and gifts he received from her.
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After Chycoski filed a paternity suit against Quinn in 2011, he allegedly colluded with Andre Antoine Pearson, 36, to falsify a DNA test. Pearson was a Comprehensive Medical Inc. employee responsible for collecting DNA swabs from individuals, and prosecutors say that he sent a sample from a third party in place of Quinn’s to a DNA analysis lab for use in the court case.
Pearson was arrested Wednesday morning on suspicion of conspiring to falsify evidence. He was released later that day on $15,000 bail.
The episode is the latest controversy at the northern Sacramento area district, which has been the target of multiple expensive lawsuits, scathing grand jury reports and questions about the aggressive practices of its police department.
Quinn used the initial DNA test result in court to deny paternity, prosecutors said, and claimed under penalty of perjury, “I am not aware of any irregularities concerning the paternity testing in this matter.” Chycoski insisted that she had not had sexual relations with any other person before her pregnancy, but a judge denied her request that Quinn take a second DNA test.
The District Attorney’s Office, already investigating Quinn for the loans and gifts, decided to look into the validity of the paternity test results to establish the credibility of Chycoski, their primary witness, said Albert Locher, Sacramento County assistant district attorney.
He said Chycoski’s insistence that Quinn was the father and a conversation with her lawyer recounting a deposition further persuaded investigators to get a DNA sample from Quinn. Chycoski’s attorney, Lisa Wible Wright, said that Cortez refused a drink of water and declined to handle a piece of paper presented to him at a deposition in June.
That prompted the August bathroom sleuthing by the DA’s investigator, who trailed Quinn, waited for him to wash and dry his hands, then retrieved the wadded-up paper towels.
The DA’s Laboratory of Forensic Services found the paper towel evidence “was consistent with being the child’s biological father,” according to an affidavit released Wednesday. The evidence did not match the DNA sample said to be Quinn’s in the paternity case.
Quinn is charged with four felony counts of perjury, four felony counts of filing false documents and five misdemeanor counts related to the illegal loans. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 12 years imprisonment on the felony offenses, and an additional six months in the county jail for each misdemeanor.
He was released on $25,000 bail Wednesday morning. Looking uncomfortable and upset in a gray suit and orange dress shirt, Quinn repeatedly said, “No comment,” as reporters followed him from the jail down the street. He declined to name his attorney.
A court date is set for Nov. 13.
“We share the community’s shock and concern over the arrest of Trustee Cortez Quinn,” the Twin Rivers Unified School District said in a statement. “All of us are impacted when something like this occurs, but we want to assure our parents and the community that we will not be distracted from our goal. We will continue to press forward to provide a world-class education where all students graduate college and career ready.”
The board will meet in closed session at 6 p.m. today “to discuss this matter and determine its course of action,” the district said.
Quinn has served on the Twin Rivers oard since 2007 and was board president in 2012-13. He worked as a longtime aide to Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, in the Legislature and at the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.
Quinn left Dickinson’s staff in 2012 under a “mutual agreement” after serving as the assemblyman’s district director as he was being investigated by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Dickinson spokeswoman Taryn Kinney said Wednesday in a statement that Quinn left the assemblyman’s office 16 months ago and that “Assemblymember Dickinson continues to be deeply disappointed by these allegations against a former staff member.”
Board members contacted Wednesday expressed a mix of concern and disappointment.
“I consider him a friend and I wish him well,” board member Walter Kawamoto said. “I tried calling him this morning to see if he was OK.”
Trustee Linda Fowler said she isn’t certain how the board will respond to the arrest. “We have never been faced with this situation before,” she said. “Who knows? He may resign.”
“It puts another black mark on our district,” she said.
Quinn has been dogged by controversy for more than a year, and voters were aware of the paternity suit and allegations of illegal loan activity when they re-elected him in June 2012. Board members a month later unanimously elected him as president.
As Quinn’s troubles mounted, board members considered removing him as president and censuring him this spring. A public hearing in April drew a large crowd, including a number of people speaking against the censure.
Quinn also is the subject of a civil lawsuit brought by Chycoski, who says he never repaid a $52,000 loan. She gave him the money in cash transfers, money orders and purchases on her credit card, including auto shop charges to repair Quinn’s BMW, according to the affidavit. Two money orders worth $17,500 each came from the estate of her late husband.
“Sherilene has been notified and she feels vindicated,” Wright said of the arrest. “She will be a witness in the case.”
Wright said that she will seek judgment in the paternity case “now that we have this new evidence.”
Chycoski also has submitted a $3 million suit against the school district for alleged discrimination, harassment and retaliation, Wright said. The Canadian citizen alleges the district withdrew approval of an extension of her work visa, breaching her contract.
“I think this charge also will have significant implications in the two civil suits that she has filed,” Wright said.
Sue Ramsden, owner of Comprehensive Medical Inc., said she wasn’t aware of any other investigations involving the company, but said DA’s investigators had taken all records of tests conducted in 2012.
The affidavit from the District Attorney’s Office says that Ramsden “indicated that many times people coming to her office for testing have made statements that they are willing to provide money to alter the results.”
Ramsden said other statements in the legal document are “not complete and taken out of context.” She said her four lengthy conversations with investigators were condensed and edited to be incriminating to Pearson.
She said the clinic had never been accused of falsifying tests in its 22-year history and that she would have terminated Pearson if she were suspicious of him. “Everything we do here is evidentiary,” she said. “We have to take every precaution. Our job is to protect the integrity of the specimen.”