Former El Paso Official Sentenced for Drug Smuggling

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A former elected official in El Paso, Texas, has been sentenced to six years in federal prison and ordered to pay a fine of $300,000 for drug trafficking, rekindling concerns over the corruption rate among US government officials in the border region.

Former El Paso County Commissioner Guillermo “Willie” Gandara pled guilty in August to using his property to distribute over 120 pounds of marijuana, reported the El Paso Times. Gandara, reportedly nicknamed “the Godfather,” was running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives prior to his arrest in February 2012 by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

In a recorded conversation with undercover DEA agents, Gandara boasted that his drug smuggling network ran from El Paso to Chicago. Gandara’s operation reportedly involved smuggling marijuana hidden in boxes of chilli powder.

InSight Crime Analysis

Gandara’s arrest is an important reminder that US officials are not immune to drug-related corruption. Another prominent corruption case from 2011 involved the mayor and police chief of a small town in New Mexico charged with smuggling guns into Mexico. The ex-mayor was sentenced to 51 months in prison earlier this year. 

US authorities are particularly concerned about the spread of corruption in the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies. In August, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which houses both agencies, released a report that detailed several cases in which border security and immigration officers accepted bribes, or participated in drug and gun smuggling schemes.

The DHS has blamed the 38 percent rise in complaints against border security officers between 2004 and 2011 on the insufficient vetting of new employees, many of whom were hired during the department’s massive post-2004 expansion. Still, many of the most serious criminal violations have involved veteran employees.

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