FBI agents on Wednesday arrested a longtime Tucson criminal defense lawyer and his assistant on charges of obstructing justice and witness tampering during a 2017 border drug case.
The case against Rafael F. Gallego, 59, and his assistant, Ricardo Gallego, 39, both part of the Gallego Law Firm, stem from the arrest of a man in January 2017 on drug-trafficking charges at the Nogales Port of Entry.
The federal indictment, unsealed Wednesday, said Rafael Gallego was the attorney for Efrain Corrales-Perez, who was arrested after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found more than 20 pounds of cocaine hidden in the airbag compartment of his Chevrolet Silverado as he tried to cross at the DeConcini Port of Entry.
Rafael Gallego and Ricardo Gallego were indicted on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, conspiracy to commit false statements, obstruction of justice, accessory after the fact and conspiracy to tamper with a witness, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, which is handling the case.
The indictment alleges that during this case, the attorney and his assistant conspired to lie to investigators, border agents and an assistant U.S. attorney. They are also accused of providing assistance to Corrales-Perez to hinder and prevent his apprehension, trial and punishment on the drug charges.
The two are also accused of trying to persuade Corrales-Perez into providing false information to investigators, according to the news release.
Corrales-Perez had the charges against him dismissed in October 2017, court documents show.
Rafael Gallego and Ricardo Gallego face up to 20 years in prison on the witness-tampering charges, 10 years for obstruction of justice charges and up to five years on the other conspiracy charges, according to the news release.
Rafael Gallego, licensed to practice law in Arizona since 1991, was suspended by the Arizona Bar Association for one year in March 2008 after an investigation determined that he was using cocaine prior to and during a murder trial.
His client, Robert Sagasta, was convicted in 2000 of first-degree murder for a shooting death at a party and sentenced to life in prison. However, a judge threw out the conviction and sentence after it was determined that Rafael Gallego used cocaine during the trial, according to Star archives.
Sagasta later pleaded guilty to the less-serious charge of negligent homicide and was sentenced to eight years in prison, archives show.
The Bar Association’s online report said Rafael Gallego admitted to using drugs. In addition to the suspension, he was placed on probation for two years once he was reinstated by the bar.
Rafael Gallego was reinstated in May 2010, however, in April 2012 he was reprimanded by the Bar Association and ordered to pay $9,700 in restitution after he admitted to acting as a legal assistant or paralegal without being supervised by a licensed attorney.