Thursday, May 28, 2015

Gandara's Sentence - What Does it Mean?

Photo Courtesy of Rosy Zugasti - Univision 26
Forever gone are "the Kennedy's of the Valley" and they went out in yet another made-for-Hollywood twist in an epic saga that has plagued the lower valley for years.

Whenever someone isn't liked by someone else and a sentence is handed down, they say, "Oh, he got a slap on the wrist."

The reality is we have a justice system and the rules are in place as they are. The sentence was from the jury. If the jury, the same one that convicted him, said he has to get probation, then the judge has to give him probation. He can control the conditions of his probation and from what an attorney tells me he could make 180 days of jail a term of his probation. But that is pretty much it.

Gandara betrayed the trust of an entire community and for a time pretty much held another community hostage, and gets off with a night in jail.

But Gandara was a good candidate for probation. He had no priors. First time offenders routinely get probation. And the concept of probation doesn't mean someone is "off the hook". Probation sucks. The terms can vary from person to person and case to case. But trust me, its not fun.

His cousin Willie got a stiff sentence at least partially because he was an elected official. But that was a sentence handed down by a judge. Jesse was an elected official at the time of his crime as well but his sentence was handed down by a jury.

That is our system, however imperfect some may think it to be. The same system that made many happy when it produced a guilty verdict enraged others when it returned what they feel is a lenient sentence.


However, the community in Socorro and San Elizario feel like they were victimized twice. It has been an emotional roller coaster for those communities. They go from the uncertainty of whether or not there will be a conviction to the relief and joy they felt when the jury convicted Gandara of bribery. Only to end up a frustration and disbelief at the news of the sentence.

Many are only satisfied at a severe level of punishment. Bread and water in a dungeon. They say probation is a slap on the wrist. If he was sentenced to prison time and ended up in anything less than a 4x4 cell in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day they would say he got off easy.

Why do they feel that way? Because for years Jesse Gandara and some of his relatives victimized that community. The Gandara family have been in power in that small town for many years. In fact, there is still one member of the family on the city council.

The communities are understandably enraged at the sentence.

During the penalty phase of the trial, the prosecution didn't offer any witnesses. The defense offered several. The prosecution had witnesses there to testify, but just didn't. The result was the jury only heard one message and that message was from the defense about why they should be lenient.

So its not surprising they were lenient when that is the only message they got.

No amount of Monday-morning quarterbacking from non-lawyers is going to change anything or make the people of San Elizario or Socorro feel any better about the verdict today.

They feel let down by the system after being let down by the Gandaras.


But lets look at this a little more deeply. In my opinion, the guilty verdict was the punishment.

Jesse Gandara is about ego. That is the one thing you immediately learn about him within the first minute of speaking about the guy. He loves himself. He loves his ego. That is why he has the strut and always has that smug look on his face.

Remember the press conference he held on his front porch when he got arrested? That was all ego talking.

He went into the council meeting after he was arrested to resign and he arrived late. He did that on purpose. He strutted in late in order to show off. Then he resigned, but not really because he knew he'd still be in office as part of the Texas holdover clause.

Two times in the trial he wanted to testify. That was all ego. Most defense lawyers will not want their clients to testify. Gandara's ego compels him to do things like that. Both times he backed down. He hid from the media today after the sentencing, but his ego will tell him to make a statement. He can't help himself.

He thoroughly enjoyed running Socorro. More than anything in the world he liked being a "somebody", even if that was a city councilman in a small town. Seriously, the guy named a street after himself. Who does that? A guy with a serious fucking ego problem.

He has a Facebook page he runs anonymously and refers to himself in the third person as "El Teflon", a Spanish reference to the Teflon Don, John Gatti. He fancies himself a Don.

So the conviction was his punishment. He will have to wear a scarlet letter of "Felon" for the rest of his life. When you google his name it will always be a bunch of negative stuff. Whenever he tries to find a job, the felony will be an issue. He's going to be radio-active.

He has become a punchline in a really bad joke. He is no longer a "somebody" and is now going to be known as a bad guy. That is going to hit him where it hurts the most, his ego.

The normally smug and arrogant man who ran Socorro was replaced by the pudgier man who used the Bible and his family to try to gain some sympathy during his trial. His mother, his wife, and his oldest daughter all had to endure the shame and humiliation of the proceeding. That is punishment for life and I honestly felt sympathy for his family. And truthfully I must admit, I felt sympathy for him when his daughter was on the stand because I can't begin to imagine how little that must have made him feel inside as a father and as a man.

That hit him in the ego.

The guy that strutted into city council meetings and insulted members of the Socorro community was replaced by a guy who covered his face when his mom testified and couldn't even look in his wife's direction when she was on the stand trying to save him from jail time. And honestly, I have a ton of respect for his wife because she's the bread winner and has stood by her husband at a time when it was probably a lot easier to walk away.

But more than anything, Jesse Gandara's biggest punishment was losing. He was rejected at the ballot-box by his community. His plan to annex San Eli went down in flames. almost all his allies are gone and the one that is still there is coming around to being a pretty decent representative now that his influence is gone.

The strut was replaced with hanging his head in shame. That smug smile was replaced with crying. El Teflon was replaced by El Lloron. The guy who used to publicly mock people of Socorro will now do the same but will have to hide behind his keyboard on his anonymous Facebook page to do so.

Go to Facebook and look at the comments of any of the stories posted about the verdict and you will see the public's reaction to Jesse Gandara. The outrage is all over the county. I can't remember one person so universally reviled in this community, from Vinton to Tornillo. His lawyers argued that he was only charged with a crime because he's a Gandara, but judging by the comments, people think he only got a light sentence BECAUSE he's a Gandara.

And he earned all the things that are being said of him. He took advantage of communities that had limited resources but were far too trusting of him. There is a special place in hell for those that take advantage of the defenseless and a man that uses his position and influence to try to cheat people out of transparency and fairness is a let down to this community.

Elliot Shapleigh made several speeches in the valley during his time in office and often referred to the Gandara's as "the Kennedy's of the Valley". Perhaps Jesse's biggest punishment is that he, like his father, like his uncle, and like his cousin, have turned that reputation into a political punchline synonymous with corruption. Jesse, probably even more so than the rest, did more to tarnish the family name than even the Willie's.

Sadly the term "Gandara Politics" has within just a couple of years, became a pejorative term despised by the very community that they once ran.

Everyone lost today. No one should feel happy about what went down.

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