EL PASO, Texas - Socorro City Council member Jesse Gandara Jr. is being accused of offering a bribe to the owners of a prominent San Elizario business in exchange for their support in the community's annexation.
ABC-7 obtained a recorded conversation where a man purported to be Gandara allegedly offered the Licon family $40,000 if they would drop their opposition to the annexation. The money was offered in the form of an advertising campaign for Licon Dairy, and another offer was made to provide another $40,000 in business for the dairy in the form of Socorro-sponsored picnics.
ABC-7 was not able to reach Gandara, but Socorro city spokesman Dave Garcia told us he is aware of the tape. Garcia initially said Gandara wouldn't even talk about it so as not to give it credence, but later, Garcia issued a statement on the city rep's behalf saying he wasn't bribing, but bragging about his community.
The wife of Licon Dairy's owner told ABC-7 the recording is authentic and it was made January 25, while Gandara took the family driving around Socorro.
In the recording, a man, presumably Gandara, says "You don't have to make a decision now but we're getting close to it and I'd love to mediate that all for you if if you interested... because of my relationship with you all I wanted to come have that conversation with you all and at least propose it."
Another man, reportedly the owner's son, says "You been talking about how the city of Socorro has changed, it sounds like the same thing. It sounds like right now you're proposing a bribe."
Gandara allegedly responded, "I see your parents as family, and so I talk to them very honestly... I was afraid that me speaking honest to your parents, that you would use that against me. I don't know if you're recording me right now. Well, not you boy, you're all family... I would never propose this to anybody else. And it's not a bribe, the Licon Dairy is a wonderful asset."
In another segment of the nearly one and one-half hour recording, the Socorro city representative allegedly says, "i know the council... If you all came out and said, 'Okay, we recognize the resources Socorro has, we're okay with them annexing us, then I know this council, my gosh, the money they'd pump in to Licon Dairy."
Garcia tried to provide context to the recording in a statement:
"Representative Gandara does his best to reflect and represent the advantages of being part of the City of Socorro. In no way is his expression of the benefits being a part of the City of Socorro bring to the community to be misconstrued as anything but bragging about his district and community in the City of Socorro. Boasting to his family and bragging about his home town is all that is reflected in any recording of Mr. Gandara. To infer anything else would be a misrepresentation of the truth."
Garcia told ABC-7 the city will be hiring legal counsel to answer baseless claims against its city representatives.
An El Paso Sheriff's office spokeswoman tells ABC-7 the department is investigating, but they are not ready to comment.