Trial delayed for Tucson attorney accused of conspiring with drug traffickers


Rafael F. Gallego

A Tucson attorney arrested in August 2018 on charges that he obstructed justice and was an accessory after the fact to trafficking cocaine across the border will not stand trial until April 2020, after a federal judge granted the defense team more time to gather exculpatory evidence.

Rafael F. Gallego is accused of five offenses, including conspiring to tamper with a witness and encouraging false statements to federal investigators, in connection to several incidents which allegedly occurred in 2017. His trial was to begin in February, but last month defense attorney Joshua Hamilton asked for additional preparation time.

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Gallego, 60, is now set to stand trial starting April 28, with a plea deadline of April 10. In the meantime, the longtime attorney continues to practice law from an office in Tucson and has obtained court permission to travel several times to Mexico where he owns a residence.

Court records show Gallego was taken into custody by federal agents outside the Pima County Superior Court last year as he prepared to defend a client who was about to stand trial. A short time later, authorities raided Gallego’s Tucson office, seizing computers and other electronic devices which contained nearly a terabyte of data about his clients and business operation.

Gallego’s case has been complicated by the fact that an FBI computer forensic specialist had to first identify which computer records were related to five people named in the sealed criminal indictment. Those records then had to be reviewed by a federal judge to ensure government officials did not gain access to confidential information unrelated to the charges against Gallego.

According to court records, federal prosecutors allege Gallego instructed someone identified as “co-conspirator one” to provide false statements to federal agents related to the arrest of Efrain Corrales Perez, who was taken into custody at the Port of Entry in January 2017 with 25 pounds of cocaine in the interior of his vehicle.  Gallego was Perez’s attorney.

The government contends the false statements were intended to hinder the apprehension of someone suspected of directing the movement of drugs across the border. There has also been pretrial testimony that someone in Gallego’s office was purportedly telling Manuel Lozano Martinez, a suspected drug trafficking ringleader in Nogales, Sonora, about what low-level smugglers were telling investigators.

On the same day Gallego was indicted, the grand jury also issued an indictment for Ramon Alberto “Beto” Fuentes of Nogales, Arizona. Fuentes had frequent contact with Perez in 2017, and according to the indictment his phone number appeared several times on Perez’s cell phone records the day Perez was arrested.

Fuentes, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Nogales in 2014, is set to stand trial in March 2020. The cases against Gallego and Fuentes, as well a third case involving Gallego’s legal assistant Ricardo Gallego, are being prosecuted in Tucson by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Texas.

State Bar Association records show Rafael Gallego was suspended from the practice of law for one year in 2008 after admitting he used illegal drugs during his representation of a client charged with murder. In 2010 he was reinstated on probationary status for two years.

Then in 2012, Gallego was reprimanded by the state bar after admitting he acted as an unsupervised legal assistant or paralegal while on suspension.