POSTED: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 10:01pm
UPDATED: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 5:32pm
EL PASO — Former El Paso County Commissioner Willie Gandara, Jr. pleaded guilty to federal drug charges on Friday. ICE and DEA agents arrested the 37-year-old in February.
Gandara pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and establishment of manufacturing operations to distribute marijuana.
As he was walking out of the courtroom, in Spanish he said, “I don't feel good.”
In court, the former county commissioner kept his head down, not looking at the judge much at all and when the judge asked, "Do you plead guilty?" Gandara took a long pause and said yes.
Gandara's attorney, Joe Spencer spoke to reporters outside.
"He accepted responsibility for his actions. Mr. Gandara plead guilty because he was guilty and that's why he plead guilty," said Spencer.
During the hearing, U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo asked Gandara a number of questions, including if he understood the charges against him and if he understood that pleading guilty meant giving up his right to having a trial and presenting evidence in his defense. To all questions, Gandara answered yes.
There were more questions from reporters outside, specifically about how this affected the family name. Gandara comes from a long line of Gandaras in local politics. His own father, Willie Gandara Sr. is also implicated in the public corruption probe.
"A lot of people would love to be us," said Gandara Jr.
Court documents said Gandara used a Socorro home to stash marijuana last September and October. Prosecutors said Gandara tried to smuggle 124 pounds of marijuana in a tractor trailer through the Sierra Blanca checkpoint in October. They said the truck was headed to Chicago.
"He's very remorseful. He's very regretful as an example he's set. It's a bad example. He's very shamed of his conduct," said Spencer.
Gandara faces up to 40 years in federal prison and a $1.5 million fine.
Judge Montavo will sentence Gandara on November 14 at 9 a.m.