POSTED: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - 10:32am
UPDATED: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - 10:55am
EL PASO — A federal judge removed Willie Gandara Sr.'s attorney from the fraud case, after U.S. attorneys cited a conflict of interest, revealing they plan to call Gandara's son to the stand.
Gandara, Sr., was indicted as part of the alleged Access Healthsource scheme. He's accused of voting in support of the contract while on the Socorro Independent School District board to make Access the health care provider for the district, in exchange for money and kickbacks for his business.
His attorney, Joe Spencer, represented both him and his son, Willie Gandara Jr., in his drug trafficking case.
Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Debra P. Kanof told Judge Frank Montalvo they recently received information from two former trustees who worked with Gandara Sr. on the Socorro ISD board, about his son, Gandara Jr.'s, alleged involvement.
They told Montalvo that they must bring Willie Gandara, Jr., who just recently pleaded guilty to drug trafficking, to the stand to testify against his father.
They cited Gandara, Jr.'s knowledge of the inner workings of the family's scrap metal business, and of campaign contributions Gandara Jr. received through Gandara Sr.'s alleged dealings, for the need to put the son on the stand.
Spencer told Montalvo that the government never indicated the potential conflict, and was worried that the action was coming at the "11th hour."
Montalvo then ruled that Spencer be taken off the case, to protect Gandara's defense.
"Knowing what I know about your son's case, and knowing what I know about your case... I do find that there is a serious potential for conflict," said Montalvo, acknowledging his presidence over Gandara Jr.'s case.
As a result of the government's intent to bring Gandara Jr. to the stand, Montalvo also served a warning to Gandara Sr., that he may not have any contact with his son, Gandara Jr., and he may not send any messages to him through anyone else, or his bond would be revoked.
"This is not aout the government turning a son against his father," Montalvo said. "Duty to country comes first."
Choked up, Gandara Sr. asked the judge, "I can't visit with my son?"
"You can't." he replied.
Gandara's other son, Gary, was also called before the judge.
Montalvo prohibited him from speaking to his brother or his father on either of their behalf.
He walked back to his seat in tears.
Spencer spoke to reporters after court adjourned. He spoke about Gandara Sr.'s reaction to the judge's action.
"He's very disappointed. He has a lot of faith in me. I have been his family lawyer for close to a decade, and we've been preparing for this case extensively and he was confident about going to trial on this case," he said.
Spencer told reporters that Joe Vasquez, an aiding attorney, will likely stay on the case.
Spencer will now advise Gandara Sr. on whom he should retain as his new lawyer.