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County Commissioner Willie Gandara Jr. Charged With Federal Drug Trafficking

Federal agents searched the home of El Paso County Commissioner Willie Gandara Jr. in Socorro Wednesday night in connection with a federal indictment alleging he was involved in drug trafficking.

Gandara was arrested in Sierra Blanca, Texas on Wednesday night and was seen being led away from his house Wednesday night after the arrest.

El Paso County Jail records show that he is being held without bond.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, along with ICE, IRS, FBI, and state and local law enforcement personnel conducted the operation.

Juan Canales, 50, of San Elizario, has been charged with federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges in connection with the alleged operation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Both have been charged with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 kilograms or more of marijuana and one substance count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

The indictment also charges Gandara with three counts of maintaining property for the distribution of marijuana, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. If convicted, each defendant faces up to 20 years in federal prison per count.

The indictment alleges that from November 2010 until the present, the defendants conspired to possess and distribute over 50 kilograms of marijuana using property owned by Gandara located at 1000 Coker Road in El Paso County. The indictment also contains a notice of criminal forfeiture whereby the government is seeking to forfeit any and all proceeds derived from their alleged marijuana trafficking operation.

“Elected officials who engage in drug trafficking violate the public trust. As this lengthy investigation attests, DEA and its law enforcement partners are committed to holding drug traffickers accountable for their illegal activity, regardless of their position, and we will not allow the actions of a few to tarnish the honorable work that other government officials perform each day. The residents of El Paso County deserve no less,” said Joseph M. Arabit, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration-El Paso Division.

Thursday morning, federal authorities arrested Canales without incident.

“ICE-HSI, together with our federal law enforcement partners, will continue to stand steadfast and commit our resources to battle drug trafficking organizations as well as target the dangers they pose to public safety and border security,” said Dennis A. Ulrich, acting special agent in charge of ICE-HSI El Paso. “This joint investigation has thwarted a criminal enterprise, and illustrates that no member of this community is above the law.”

Gandara, 37, is a candidate for State Representative District 75. He was elected to Commissioners Court in November 2008.

Gandara’s father, Willie Gandara Sr., was indicted on federal public corruption charges in 2010. Gandara Sr. was mayor of Socorro at the time of the indictment. Gandara Sr. was booted out of office in a special recall election.

Check for more details as they become available.

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