EL PASO, Texas – A local county commissioner and candidate for the Texas legislature, and an associate were arrested Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, in connection with a drug trafficking and money laundering scheme. The arrests resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other law enforcement agencies.
HSI and DEA special agents arrested El Paso County Precinct 3 Commissioner Guillermo "Willie" Gandara Jr., 37, of El Paso, Feb. 22. Gandara has filed to run for a seat in the state legislature.
Juan Canales, 50, of San Elizario, Texas, was arrested Feb. 23. Both are charged with federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges.
A Feb. 22 federal grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday charges the defendants with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 kilograms or more of marijuana, and one substantive count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. The indictment also charges Gandara with three counts of maintaining property for distributing marijuana.
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, Texas. 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.
"HSI, together with our federal law enforcement partners, will continue to stand steadfast and commit our resources to battle drug trafficking organizations to target the dangers they pose to public safety and border security," said Dennis A. Ulrich, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. "This joint investigation has thwarted a criminal enterprise, and illustrates that no member of this community is above the law."
If convicted, Gandara and Canales each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison per count.
An indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
The following agencies also assisted in the investigation: the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol, the El Paso Police Department, and the El Paso County Sheriff's Department.