The recent arrest of an El Paso, Texas official on drug trafficking and money laundering charges has fueled concerns over corruption along the border with Mexico.
Last week, DEA agents arrested El Paso County Commissioner Guillermo “Willie” Gandara Jr. on suspicion of being part of a mid-size drug trafficking network. Gandara, who is running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, stands accused of distributing more than 110 pounds of marijuana since November 2010, and laundering the profits.
According to the federal indictment against him, the commissioner allowed a group of local drug traffickers, to whom he was known as the "Godfather," to store their product at a property of his in the small town of Socorro, where he had also served as mayor from 2004 to 2006.
On February 23, a federal judge ruled that Gandara was to be held without bail at least until a hearing this Tuesday. A day later, DEA officials raided his offices, looking for further evidence linking the commissioner to drug trafficking.
InSight Crime Analysis
Other El Paso commissioners claim that Gandara did not have access to sensitive law enforcement information, and federal officials have so far not linked him to any foreign drug trafficking groups. Still, Gandara’s arrest comes as a reminder that small towns along the Mexican border are not immune from the criminal activity happening on the other side of the fence. As US Congressman Franciso Canseco recently remarked to the Houston Chronicle, “[the case] begs the question: how deeply have these drug cartels crept into our American side and into our American society?”
The question is central to the current debate over border security, but the answer is unclear. While fears of “spillover violence” have been largely baseless, the American Southwest is a major source of arms and ammunition for Mexican drug cartels, and the US Border Patrol has been struggling in recent years to combat corruption within its ranks.
Considering the extent of their influence, it is not unlikely that powerful Mexican groups like the Zetas and Sinaloa Cartel have at least a handful of local or state officials in the US on their payrolls.