Skip to Content

County Commissioner Willie Gandara Jr. Will Remain In Jail; Brother Says ‘It Hurts’

For Gary Gandara, seeing his brother, Willie Gandara Jr. in shackles at a court appearance Thursday was painful to witness.

“It hurts,” Gary said of seeing his brother swaying back and forth while wearing a blue prison jumpsuit with shackles around his ankles and waist. “I look up him, he’s everything to me.”

Gandara Jr. was arrested Wednesday night in Sierra Blanca, Texas in connection with a federal indictment alleging he was involved in drug trafficking. In the indictment, Gandara Jr.’s nickname is listed as “Godfather.”

Gandara Jr.’s lawyer, Joe Spencer, said his client was on his way to San Antonio for a family vacation when he was arrested in Sierra Blanca. Spencer said Gandara Jr. was taken by law enforcement to Socorro for a search of his home.

Spencer said the search turned up nothing.

Gandara Jr. had his arraingment on Thursday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Guaderrama. The judge did not set bond for Gandara Jr.

“I’m not surprised given (Gandara Jr.’s) high profile,” said Spencer.

An arraignment detention hearing has been scheduled for Feb 28.

Gary Gandara said he thinks the arrest and charges are politically motivated. “This has been going on too long,” said Gary Gandara. “Basically you can’t sleep because you don’t know who they want to pick on next in the family. I know my brother, I know our family. We’ve worked really hard and people don’t understand that if you work hard, you can live a good life. But if you live a good life and people around you see that, automatically (they assume) you’re a drug dealer.”

Gandara Jr. was in a lineup of about 30 detainees who were also going before the federal judge on different cases Thursday afternoon.

After the hearing, Gandara’s attorney said they will plead not guilty.

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, also 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.

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

Gandara Jr.’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 kicked out of office in a special recall election.

Check for more details as they become available.

Article Topic Follows: News

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo



KVIA ABC 7 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content