Yesterday evening, current County Commissioner and candidate for State Representative, Willie Gandara Jr., was arrested by federal agents. According to media releases, the arrest and search warrants are drug related. At this point, besides the “wink, wink” government relations pronouncements, the investigation is being led by federal agencies with local police and prosecutors nowhere to be found.

I have been writing for many years that the notion that El Paso is somehow immune to the neighboring drug war is nothing more than a smoke screen designed to hide the obvious, El Paso’s participation in the drug transit of drugs into the nation. Local police forces and politicos have notoriously publicly postured that the drug war is south of the border and that drug dealers are not among us. Incredulous, some have even pronounced that drug henchmen are too afraid of the local police forces! I can’t even keep from laughing out loud as I write this.

A few days ago, the Police Chief once again pronounced the city safe after a woman was hit by a stray bullet supposedly discharged in the Mexican side. This, even before an investigation was started! It’s the standard political mantra, the violence is on the Mexican side. At this point, the bullet likely made it from Mexico but that is not conclusive and an investigation still needs to be concluded before pronouncing the case solved.

Late last year, the city’s drug testing lab, a local police run entity, was put on suspension for failing basic security protocols designed to ensure the integrity of drug prosecutions. Numerous corruption trials are ongoing or have concluded. The County government, including County prosecutors even defended, until the bitter end, the lying of a medical examiner who’s job it is to be honest in order for juries to determine the innocence of an accused.

In every case, the local county government, led by County Judge Veronica Escobar, has been nowhere to be found in either the investigations or the prosecution of wrongdoing in the community.

“It makes me very sad for his children. Obviously, he is innocent until proven guilty and he will have an opportunity to plead his case and want to assure the public this has nothing to do with the county of El Paso and county government,” said County Judge Veronica Escobar.

That statement says it all, the local County officials see no evil and hear no evil!

Not to be left behind, Police Chief Greg Allen is quoted as reiterating that El Paso remains one of the safest cities in the nation after the shooting incident downtown. Mayor John Cook reinforced that notion as well. Curiously, both Sheriff Wiles and the region’s prosecutor, Jaime Esparza have been quiet.

And now a County Commissioner is accused of drug related crimes.

It has been acknowledged publicly that current Congressional Candidate Beto O’Rourke, sitting city representative Susie Byrd and County Judge Veronica Escobar are friends and are ardent political allies.

Congressional Candidate Beto O’Rourke and Byrd recently published a book on legalizing drugs. Escobar, as the sitting County chief has not once asked the simple question, how come local law enforcement and prosecutors have not once investigated and brought charges against the corruption permeating the county? Why is it that all of the prosecutions and investigations are led by out of town agencies?

It’s not like it is one investigation or two, or that the community never whispers about the ongoing corruption in the community. It’s numerous investigations. The under-current in the community for decades has been that you “must pay to play”.

Let’s recap the three amigos; Byrd, Escobar and O’Rourke. Byrd and Escobar actively support O’Rourke both personally and professionally. O’Rourke takes the position that drug legalization will solve community issues. O’Rourke’s mother plead guilty, on behalf of her company, to money laundering. Escobar, as the County leader, supports and defends a disgraced medical examiner who is a proven lier. Escobar has never publicly challenged or even asked why is it that her government entity’s law enforcement agencies have not brought a single charge in any one of the numerous criminal investigations permeating County government?

Likewise, city official Byrd proclaims government accountability, yet co-writes a book about legalizing drugs and has never once demanded accountability by the police department she governs over, even after numerous police officers are indicted for corrupt practices and numerous allegations of abuse against the police agency are levied?

George DeAngelis, a former police chief, levied corruption charges against his own police department and the department responded by harassing him instead of proving their innocence.

Throughout out all of this undercurrent, we are now witnessing the prosecution of a sitting county official for drug crimes.

Let’s examine the latest case. Willie Gandara, Jr. is a current County Commissioner and a candidate for State Representative. As of this morning he sits in County lockup. His father, former Mayor of Socorro, Willie Gandara Sr., was arrested and charged in August 2010 with committing fraud as a school board member, by federal agents. He is accused, along with 10 others, of using bribes to secure multi-million dollar contracts.

Former Socorro city councilman and politically linked to the Gandara family, Luis Varela plead guilty to drug charges. He was arrested in November 2011 in possession of 27.5 grams of cocaine and 44 pounds of Marihuana.

In January, Willie Gandara’s uncle, Jesus Gandara Sr., was arrested and charged in California on corruption charges involving the Sweetwater Union High School District. He is also charged with accepting bribes.

Willie Gandara, Jr., was quoted in the news media as stating, “My family is my family and I won’t waver. At this point,  I don’t know everything because there’s a lot of allegations. It’s a bunch of hearsay and I’m going to wait till I get together with family and figure out what’s actually going on.”, in reference to his uncle’s arrest.

Willie Gandara’s father’s case is related to the ongoing public corruption case in El Paso that was started by an investigation of Bob Jones’ tenure as CEO of one of the largest employer’s in the city at the time. Jones currently sits in federal prison a convicted felon. Bob Jones was a darling of the city’s politicos and establishment while he was doling out money.

What about the local business and non-profit community?

The local non-profits were more than happy to take the monies proffered over by Bob Jones not once publicly questioning his ethics. The Chamber of Commerce and tourism boards, then, as today, would rather continue to play dumb and see no evil and hear no evil, as long as the corrupt money continues to flow.

What is corruption?

Contrary to popular belief, corruption is not just about taking money or making quid-pro quo deals between parties. It is also about not performing the job someone is paid to do. Now, let’s examine the actions of the three amigos, Byrd, Escobar and O’Rourke.

City representative Susie Byrd, as one of the government officials of the city of El Paso is in a position and I would argue, has the duty to demand an explanation from the city’s police department’s actions when it comes to the expenditure of the taxpayer’s monies. For example, the city of El Paso has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle cases of numerous allegations of police brutality. The police department is currently embroiled in allegations of corruption within its ranks for ticket fixing. The police department had its drug lab suspended for protocol violations. And, allegations of drug baron influence over the police department has been levied against it by a former police chief and not once has Susie Byrd demanded answers, instead she has publicly defending the agency.

Byrd even co-wrote a book with Congressional candidate O’Rourke on the merits of drug legalization. Likewise, O’Rourke, also defended the local police force during his tenure as city representative.

Judge Escobar, on the other hand, sits in a position and I would again argue has the duty to demand accountability from the Sheriff’s department and the county prosecutors. Yet, she will defend a lying medical examiner who’s job is to tell the truth in order to determine if people should go to jail. Even at the expense of the taxpayers footing the liar’s salary.

Where are the local prosecutors and police agencies?

There are numerous local corruption investigations ongoing in the community. El Paso sits on the border with one of largest transit points of drugs entering the United States. Throughout all of this, the local prosecutors and police agencies have yet to mount a credible and successful corruption prosecution, not one. Not one day goes by where the community’s undercurrent whispers about rampant corruption. And the investigations?


On the other hand, three cases of bullets crossing the international border in five years of open conflict against drug dealers on the Mexican side, with many lives lost, and the three amigos and the local law enforcement and government offices rapidly proclaim El Paso is the second safest city in the country!

Not one ever asking where do the drugs that make it over the border end up?

What about the local media?

Since 2008, there has been an ongoing open battle between Mexican law enforcement and drug dealers with thousands of Juarez citizens loosing their lives. It is universally acknowledged that the battles are about control of one of the most significant drug routes into the United States.

There have been a few reported cases of drug violence, in the form of kidnappings in El Paso with bodies turning up on the Mexican side of the border. The undercurrent commentary is that there are many more that are not documented because the local law enforcement agencies conveniently argue that it’s outside of their jurisdiction.

Throughout all of this, the local media has been noticeable absent when it comes to reporting the ongoing Drug War that has captivated the world.

Why is it that the BBC and The San Diego papers have better coverage of the ongoing battles for control of the drug corridors? And the local media just regurgitates reports from others?

Rather, the local media would rather continue to spoon feed the notion that the city is the second safest in the nation instead of asking where are the investigations? It’s as if everyone is in cahoots and no one wants to admit it.

Who benefits?

Money is the driving force behind the drug war and for someone to benefit from the huge amounts of monies that feed the drug cartels doesn’t mean that, that individual needs to be directly involved with drugs. Money juices the bureaucracy that conveniently allows shipments to go unimpeded and investigations to never get started. Money flows from the top to the bottom and eventually engulfs a community that remains oblivious to the obvious.

In the case of El Paso, no public official has ever had the courage to ask; “what happens to the drugs once they make it over the border?” A simple question and one that is not asked and much less investigated.

Those that would argue that the majority is captured by law enforcement ignore the obvious fact that if the city of El Paso was not a lucrative gateway for drug transit to the nation then the drug war in Juarez would not exist. Local law enforcement has even argued that the drugs do not stay for long in El Paso. As if that excuses the apparent lack of local law enforcement investigations.

It’s simple, if the majority of the drugs didn’t make it to the rest of nation then Juarez would not be a battle ground. If El Paso did not look the other way, then drugs would not make it out in significant quantities to feed the habits of the users.

The three amigos, Byrd, Escobar and O’Rourke have banded together around the notion that they are weeding out corruption and are acting in the best interest of the community, yet when in the position to ask the simple question, why aren’t those that I wield some authority over not prosecuting corruption?, the answer is…. nothing.

Like the rest of the community, Byrd, Escobar and O’Rourke see no evil and hear no evil. The conspiracy theorist in me asks, could it be that they benefit by not asking the questions that need to be asked? Corruption is also inaction when it comes to doing your job.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

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