Ex-County Commissioner Willie Gandara Jr. admits to trafficking marijuana, may get more than 20 years

Bowing his head and looking grim, former El Paso County Commissioner Guillermo “Willie” Gandara Jr. pleaded guilty Friday to charges that he ran a marijuana-trafficking ring out of his ranch in Socorro. Gandara, 37, entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo. He pleaded guilty to two charges — conspiracy to distribute marijuana and establishment of manufacturing operations to distribute marijuana. He was allowed to remain free on bond and will be sentenced Nov. 14. The maximum sentence for each charge is 20 years in prison. In February, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested Gandara Jr., nicknamed “Godfather,” and his associate, Juan Canales, on drug-trafficking charges. During Friday’shearing, Gandara admitted distributing nearly 124 pounds of marijuana from his ranch on Coker Road in October. The marijuana was hidden in boxes of powdered chile and placed in a tractor-trailer destined for Chicago. DEA agents had Gandara under surveillance, which included audio and video recordings made after agents received a tip that Gandara had been involved in distributing marijuana from his ranch. According to the factual basis filed in Gandara’s case and read aloud by federal prosecutors in court Friday, DEA agents had an unnamed source contact Gandara in September about using the ranch to offload packages of marijuana. The source paid Gandara $5,000 for using the ranch, and Gandara told the source about a planned shipment of marijuana to Chicago. DEA and Border Patrol agents stopped the tractor-trailer at the Sierra Blanca checkpoint Oct. 22. Inside were 91 bundles of marijuana hidden in boxes of chile powder.

Videos of conversations between Gandara and the unnamed informant about the marijuana loads were played at Gandara Jr.’s detention hearing after his arrest. In one of the videos, Gandara allegedly bragged about running a drug-trafficking organization with a pipeline from El Paso County to Oklahoma and Chicago. He also bragged about making $1,200 per pound of marijuana sold in Chicago, and typically running 150 pounds of the drug per trip. After Friday’s hearing, Gandara Jr. remained silent about his pleas, but his attorney Joe Spencer said Gandara is regretful of his actions. “He’s very remorseful, which is why he decided to plead guilty,” Spencer said. Canales, as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, pleaded guilty July 5 to one charge of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute. Three other co-defendants — Javier Betancourt, Ramon Adrian Rubio-Covarrubias and Edgar Omar Barron — are scheduled to plead guilty next week. Gandara Jr., a former Socorro mayor, had been a county commissioner since 2008 and was a candidate for the Texas House District 75 seat at the time of his arrest. Following his release after his arrest, Gandara resigned as a county commissioner and withdrew his candidacy for the House seat. He is a member of what was once an influential and politically connected Socorro family. His father, Guillermo “Willie” Gandara Sr., is a former Socorro mayor and board trustee of the Socorro Independent School District who is also under federal indictment. Gandara Sr. was one of 11 people accused in a scheme of fraud and kickbacks tied to Access HealthSource, a company that offered health insurance services and once had contracts with SISD and the El Paso Independent School District. Nine have pleaded guilty to a number of federal charges.

via : El Paso Times

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