With his head bowed throughout his hearing former El Paso County Commissioner Willie Gandara Jr. pleaded guilty Friday afternoon to federal drug trafficking charges in front of U.S. District Court Judge Frank Montalvo.
Gandara, supported by his family in the courtroom, kept his head down throughout the whole hearing and did not look at Montalvo once.
He pled guilty to conspiring to possess a controlled substance with the intent to distribute. The charge carries a fine of up to $1 million and a maximum 20 year sentence.
He also pled guilty to use of property for withholding a controlled substance, which carries a $500,000 fine and also has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Gandara was allowed to remain out on bond and will be sentenced on Nov. 14.
Gandara was arrested the night of Feb. 22 in Sierra Blanca, Texas and charged with five counts of federal drug trafficking charges. His attorney, Joe Spencer told ABC-7 in February that his client was on his way to San Antonio for a family vacation when he was arrested in Sierra Blanca. Spencer said Gandara was taken that night by law enforcement to Socorro for a search of his home that turned up nothing.
Gandara walked out of the courtroom with little to say.
ABC-7 asked Gandara if he had anything to say to his constituents, "just talk to my attorney at this time," said Gandara.
"I think he understands the nature of his conduct," said Spencer, "and that's why he decided to accept responsibility."
Just like the responsibility he took when being sworn in as county commissioner.
ABC-7 had the opportunity to shoot video when he was elected in 2008.
Back then he told his constituents he would give 90 percent of his salary to his district.
"A person such as myself is doing it because he wants to give back to the people that have given me so much," said Gandara.
Spencer said Gandara is owning up to his actions as a drug trafficker.
"He's very remorseful. He's very regretful as an example he set. It's a bad example," said Spencer, "He's very ashamed for his conduct. He's told me that many many times."
During a hearing in late February, prosecutors played video surveillance evidence they said showed Gandara and Juan Canales engaged in illegal activity.
According to prosecutors, Gandara allegedly set up the exchange of large loads of marijuana which was stored at a property Gandara owned in Socorro.
At one point in one of the recorded conversations with a confidential informant, Gandara allegedly bragged about a small pipeline he has that runs loads of marijuana to Oklahoma and Chicago.
"We were a little surprised with the evidence," Spencer said after the late February hearing. "I think there's some issues here with entrapment. That's a solid defense. What we have here is ... Mr. Gandara, it appeared, he did have some involvement ... what the extent of involvement is we really don't know."
The indictment on Gandara alleged that from November 2010 until the February 2012, 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.
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.
Gandara, 37, withdrew from the State Representative District 75 race soon after his arrest and resigned his seat on Commissioners Court.
He was elected to Commissioners Court in November 2008.