EL PASO, Texas
Federal prosecutors have charged 11 people, including the El Paso County district clerk and the mayor of a small West Texas town, as part of a years-old public corruption case.
Nine of the defendants, including El Paso County District Clerk Gilbert Sanchez, are charged with assorted violations under the federal anti-racketeering law. Also charged with racketeering violations are Francisco Apodaca Jr., former head of now-defunct Access Healthsource Inc., and Access consultant Marc Schwartz.
The 27-page indictment accuses Apodaca and Schwartz of paying members of the various county and local governing boards so they would sign Access as their employee health care plan administrators.
Four others charged under the anti-racketeering law are accused of accepting the payments. They include three past and present school board members from districts in or near El Paso, two from the Socorro district and one Ysleta, as well as former El Paso County Commissioner Larry Medina.
Two others, former El Paso County Judge Luther Jones and former El Paso City Council member David Escobar, are accused of facilitating the payments after they left office. Both men are El Paso lawyers.
All eleven defendants, including current Socorro Mayor Willie Gandara Sr., turned themselves in at the El Paso FBI office Thursday morning, U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy said. Gandara faces a single charge of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
Everyone pleaded not guilty during an initial appearance in federal court in El Paso Thursday afternoon and was released on bond.
Gandara's lawyer, Joe Spencer, said his client was innocent.
Tom Stanton represents Charles Garcia, who was charged under the anti-racketeering law and with mail and wire fraud, said while a Socorro schools trustee Garcia never voted for an Access contract.
"I am astounded that the man would be charged in this," Stanton said. "This is a tragedy."
The indictment also accuses two Ysleta school trustees of voting to approve legal services with an El Paso law firm in return for a kickback. The law firm was not identified in the indictment.
Federal prosecutors say the conspiracies laid out in the indictment occurred at various times between 1998 and 2007.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Kanoff said federal investigators relied on confidential informants, three wiretaps and countless electronic and federal documents to build their case.
Jones and Sanchez were previously indicted on charges related to a scheme to award a contract in exchange for kickbacks. Several charges in that original indictment have been dismissed, but both still face allegations of conspiracy. Both men have denied wrongdoing.
Thursday's indictment concluded one phase of a years-old corruption case that already has netted more than 11 guilty pleas and several other indictments, FBI Special Agent in Charge David Cuthbertson said.
The case was first made public in 2006 when FBI agents raided the offices of a local charity, the National Center for the Employment of the Disabled, which owned Access. In 2007, agents also searched the offices of El Paso County Judge Anthony Cobos and a pair of county commissioners.
Murphy said the probe would continue "as long as we have viable leads."