Willie Gandara Sr. trial postponed after judge removes defense lawyer

Former Socorro mayor accused of fraud

EL PASO, Texas - Update: U.S. District Court Judge Frank Montalvo on Tuesday removed defense attorney Joe Spencer from Willie Gandara Sr.'s case due to a potential conflict of interest.

"In the last two months, ten of the eleven defendants have entered pleas of guilty to at least one count in the instant cause," the prosecution's motion states. "While debriefing the defendants who have pled guilty, the government discovered that, in order to present its case-in-chief, the testimony of the son of the defendant would be necessary. As a result of the dual representation of the father and the son, Mr. Spencer would be required to cross-examine, and possibly impeach, his own client, the son, in the father's trial. The government avers this situation results in an actual conflict for attorney Joe Spencer."

Previous story: An alleged co-conspirator in a federal corruption investigation is expected in federal court Tuesday morning.

Guillermo "Willie" Gandara, Sr. is one of 11 accused of fraud in the FBI investigation dubbed "Operation Poisoned Pawns." Gandara is the remaining figure in the operation who has not pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges.

The former mayor of Socorro and former board trustee for the Socorro Independent School District has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. Federal investigators accuse Gandara of accepting a $1,000 bribe from Access Healthsource in exchange for a vote in favor of Access to be the SISD's insurance provider when he was a trustee. According to the indictment, the bribe was intended for Willie Gandara, Jr., the former county commissioner who at the time was running for state representative. Gandara, Jr. has pleaded guilty to unrelated drug trafficking charges.

Other co-conspirators who have pleaded guilty are Access CEO Frank Apodaca, Access attorney and former County Judge Luther Jones, attorney David Escobar, former County Commissioner Betti Flores, former City Representative Larry Medina, former District Clerk Gilbert Sanchez, former SISD trustees Charlie Garcia and Ray Rodriguez and former YISD trustees Milton "Mickey" Duntley and Linda Chavez.

According to federal document associated with Gandara's case, the jury selection and trial are scheduled Tuesday with selection beginning at 9 a.m.

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