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UPDATE: Willie Gandara Sr. heading to prison in Feb.

By: Melissa Gundersen
EL PASO, Texas -- A federal judge sentenced a former Socorro mayor and Socorro Independent School District board member to spend the next 3 years in prison for accepting bribes in a large-scale public corruption case.

In addition to prison time, Federal Judge Frank Montalvo also sentenced Willie Gandara Sr. to three years' supervised release. He must also pay a $25,000 fine and pay $5,575.67 in restitution.

"I mean, you always want something less, but today was an acceptable result," said defense attorney Jim Darnell.

Gandara pleaded guilty to wire fraud in July. Prosecutors said he accepted bribes worth $1,000 in exchange for his vote toward a multimillion-dollar contract with Access Health Service. Access was trying to become SISD's health care provider.

Montalvo, however, told the court he commends Gandara for coopering with the FBI and giving the government leads in other possible arrests.

Montalvo still gave Gandara the maximum prison time, though.

"You finally saw the light and stand to benefit from it. But I cannot act on a hope and a prayer," Montalvo told Gandara.

Montalvo said he will lower Gandara's sentence if the information he provided leads to more arrests and he continues to help FBI. How much weight his information holds, however, is still unknown.

"I ethically cannot even tell the judge specifics about the information that was provided. He just has to make a determination based on sort of nebulous recommendations that the government believes that the information provided was significant," said prosecuting attorney Debra Kanof.

Kanof called all information given by Gandara "raw data" and told the judge the government is looking into it.

"All I can do is tell you that everybody seems to be positive, and so we're optimistic," said Darnell.

Gandara will start serving his prison time in February so he can spend the holidays with family and continue to help the FBI.
 

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