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Former school board president makes plea deal in corruption case

Updated: Tuesday, July 23 2013, 11:28 AM MDT

By: Bill Melugin

EL PASO, Texas --

Former Socorro School Board President Willie Gandara Sr. accepted a plea deal in Monday's federal public corruption trial.

Gandara, who is also the city of Socorro's former mayor, pleaded guilty to taking a bribe in exchange for his vote on the school board back in 2006.

Gandara's conspiracy to commit wire fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison with a fine of no more than $250,000. Because of the plea deal, the judge capped his sentence at three and a half years in prison.

In the courtroom, Gandara admitted to accepting an illegal bribe during his time as a board member from representatives of Access Healthsource. The company was trying to become Socorro Independent School District's health care provider at the time.

In exchange for the money, Gandara continually voted yes to approve the company as the provider every time it came up on the school board's agenda.

Access was initially approved at one point, but the school board later changed its vote and selected another provider.

Prosecutors laid out their evidence in the courtroom on Monday, part of which was a phone call they intercepted between Access president Frank Apodaca, and Access spokesman March Schwartz, both of whom are also defendants in the case and have already pleaded guilty.

In the phone call, the two men discuss how loyal Gandara had been to them, despite the fact their company wasn't selected.

"Really, so he stood up for us to the very end?" Schwartz asks.
"Yeah, I was so damn proud of him," Apodaca replies.
"Wow," Schwartz said.

Gandara was originally supposed to have a trial by jury beginning at 3 p.m., but the plea deal waived that right.

A tense moment in the courtroom occurred when Federal Judge Frank Montalvo officially asked Gandara to admit to the allegations in order to accept the plea deal.

"In exchange for your vote for Access, were you expecting anything in return?" Judge Montalvo asked.

"No sir," Gandara replied.

"So you were doing it out of the goodness of your heart? Think about it Mr. Gandara, you are under oath, I can call the jury in right now," Montalvo said.

After a 20 minute recess for Gandara to collect his thoughts, Montalvo asked Gandara again if he expected anything in return for his votes for Access.

After staying silent for about 15 seconds, Gandara finally replied, "Yes, sir," and began to cry.

Gandara and his attorney refused to answer any questions from KFOX14.

Ten other people are involved in the corruption case – all of whom have already pleaded guilty. Their hearing will be at 9 a.m. Nov. 6. The judge plans to sentence all of them on that day.

Former school board president makes plea deal in corruption case

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