When is bribery not bribery? Many of us who follow politics closely have a hard time understanding what the line between bribery and politics is. The recent Hillary Clinton pay-to-play controversy exasperated the dividing line. It is no secret that the general US electorate believes that corruption permeates the entire US political system as evidenced by the Donald Trump election. It has been my contention for years that the public corruption convictions of Luther Jones and to some extent, Anthony Cobos, were selective prosecutions of a certain political faction in El Paso. Both are corrupt but so are many of the current politicians holding office in El Paso today. The difference is that one political faction was prosecuted to the benefit of the other. Last week things got even more complicated for those trying to find the dividing line between corrupt officials and those elected politicians just serving the wants and needs of their constituency.
As you know Jesus “Jesse” Gandara Jr. was convicted of bribery in May of 2015. Gandara was convicted of bribing the Licon Diary owners by promising to have the City of Socorro promote the Licon Dairy using tourism tax dollars in exchange for the Licon’s supporting annexation of San Elizario by Socorro.
The local news media focused on a recording of Gandara surreptitiously made by the Licon family as Gandara took them on a sightseeing tour in his van. The night-time van ride and the secret recording made for movie night drama. The jury convicted Gandara as a result, but the Eighth Court of Appeals pointed out a glaring missing piece to the supposed Gandara bribery – who the bribe was supposed to benefit.
“Gandara’s conduct was not a betrayal of the public trust, precisely because he intended to benefit the public served.”
The issue with the Gandara bribery is that the bribe did not benefit Jesse Gandara. That fact was acknowledged by the Jaime Esparza prosecuting team, as well as by Gandara and his defense team. In other words, Jesse Gandara undertook an attempt to get support from the Licon family for an annexation that was intended to benefit the community that elected him into office. Yes, Esparaza’s prosecutors agreed that Gandara was not going to benefit from the bribe directly, but rather the community that elected him into office would be the beneficiary.
When voters cast a vote for a politician it is well understood that the system is expecting the recipient politician to work for the benefit of the electorate. The Jaime Esparza prosecutors knew that Gandara was not benefiting directly from the bribe and instead the successful annexation would likely benefit the voters who put him into office. Regardless, Jaime Esparza prosecuted Jesse Gandara, nonetheless.
The appeal’s court pointed out the obvious and reversed Jesse Gandara’s conviction.
In other words, the appeals court confirmed that politicians are elected to benefit their electorate.
The more important issue that this latest reversal brings up is what does this say about El Paso’s prosecutor; Jaime Esparza.
El Paso is notoriously corrupt. Many of its public officials have been convicted or pleaded guilty to public corruption in recent years. The successful prosecutions are prosecuted by the federal government. Of the many cases of public corruption that has been identified in El Paso, not one has been successfully prosecuted by Jaime Esparza. Esparza has failed in the very few cases that he has tried to prosecute and he was just reversed in the only one he successfully prosecuted because the appeals court pointed out that to prosecute a politician for advocating for its electorate goes against the basic definition of the US electoral system.
Yet, these basic facts keep Jaime Esparza as the guardian of public corruption in El Paso. What does that say about the electorate that has kept him in office for so many years?
However, there is an even more insidious problem. Look closely at the list of who has been prosecuted for public corruption in El Paso. Now compare that list to those who are in power today.
You can view the appeals court documents here.