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Geopolitics

How Brazil's Drug Bosses Dial In For Secret Conference Calls -- From Jail

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Everything you need
Marco Antonio Martins, Afonso Benites, Rogerio Pagnan and Josmar Jozino

SÃO PAULO - It was February 10th, 2011, Penitentiary No. 2 in Presidente Venceslau, a rural town in Brazil’s São Paulo state. At 4:51 P.M., a secret conference call began by mobile phone with two prisoners and three criminals on the outside – the conversation would go on without interruption for nine hours and 38 minutes. The call would resume again later, totaling 12 hours and one minute of discussion by the time all was said and done.

The subjects on the agenda: various drug trafficking routes in Paraguay and Bolivia, distribution of marijuana and cocaine in Brazil and investments that should be made with all the earned cash. The criminals conversing were all members of PCC, the largest criminal organization in São Paulo state.

The conference call was one of many secretly recorded by the Federal Police as part of the so-called Operation Leviathan, aimed at fighting the international drug trade, and Folha de São Paulo obtained copies of the reports of the calls.

The recordings started in October 2010 and lasted until May 2012, when police started to move in on 25 people targeted. On average, the calls would involve four people, and could last from just a few minutes to several hours. On one late-night call, nine people were chatting at once, six of them imprisoned.

The frequency of the telephone appointments depended on the assembled prison staff at the moment. Each day, a different low-ranking prisoner was chosen to talk on the phone in the name of PCC. After hanging up, the subjects would go to the bosses inside the prison – answers would be returned on a successive call.

The calls made no apparent mentions about killing police officers, as had happened before, but information on prisoners accessing TV and Internet from within jail.

The penitentiary in Presidente Venceslau, 610 kilometers from the city of São Paulo, is where top PCC bosses are sent when they are considered model prisoners. Otherwise they are sent to Presidente Bernardes Penitentiary, the only maximum security prison in São Paulo state.

A spokesperson for the State Secretary of Security refused to answer directly to the latest report. Last August, authorities found 8,355 mobile phones in Brazilian prisons, 12 of them in Presidente Venceslau. Cell phone signal blocking devices have been tested, but none of them has been considered effective.

Prisoners caught using phones answer criminally for their actions, suffering disciplinary sanctions and the loss of certain benefits in prison.

The conferences were mainly held to discuss where to stash weapons and drugs. In 2012, PCC suffered major losses with police’s actions, with 30 loads of drugs discovered, including 1.7 tons of marijuana in just one place and 19 guns in another location. Since then, the group has been investing in buying houses for hiding drugs.

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