Escritório do Crime is one of the largest and most powerful militia groups in Brazil’s second-largest city, Rio de Janeiro.
In recent years, the group has gained notoriety for a series of high-profile contract killings, most notably the murder of councilwoman Marielle Franco in August 2018. Despite the capture and death of certain top leaders, it continues to be one of Rio’s dominant criminal forces and appears set on expanding its presence even further.
The membership of Escritório do Crime (Office of Crime) is largely made up of former and serving police officers working primarily as hitmen, but their criminal portfolio extends to drug trafficking, extortion and other organized crime activities.
Rio’s infamous militias have their roots in the brutal death squads that emerged during the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from the 1960s to the 1980s. They were initially formed to protect residents living in gang-controlled favelas, but many later became involved in drug trafficking, extortion and other criminal activities. They have also now established a monopoly over internet service, cable TV, public transport and construction.
Over the past decade, these paramilitary-style groups have expanded dramatically, and today they control large swaths of Rio de Janeiro as well as other large cities in Brazil. An estimated 57 percent of Rio’s metropolitan area is under control of militias. As a result, some 3.7 million people live in militia-controlled zones.
Escritório do Crime was created in the mid-2000s by Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega, alias “Capitão Adriano.” Nóbrega was a former member of the Special Operations Police Battalion (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais — BOPE).
In 2005, he received Rio de Janeiro’s highest honour, the Tiradentes Medal, from Bolsonaro’s son, senator Flavio Bolsonaro, while he was in jail on a homicide conviction. According to police, Adriano participated in at least eight homicides between 2006 and 2009, at the behest of José Luiz de Barros Lopes, known as “Zé Personal.”
And between 2009 and 2016, three of the group’s key members – Adriano, João André and Batoré – were allegedly carrying out a series of contract killings. But in March 2016, João, considered the right-hand man of Adriano, was killed as he was leaving a bakery in Rio’s northern zone.
The militia group made headlines in August 2018 when it was linked to the murder of Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes. Franco was a councilwoman who had been an outspoken critic of police brutality in Rio de Janeiro’s marginalised favelas.
In March 2019, two former police officers with ties to Escritório do Crime were arrested in connection with the murder of Marielle Franco. Ronnie Lessa, a former police sergeant and expert sniper, was accused of shooting Franco, while Élcio de Queiroz, a former military police officer, allegedly acted as Lessa’s driver. Adriano Nóbrega was one of the alleged intellectual authors of the murder.
On the same day that Lessa was arrested, police found 117 M-16 assault rifles at a Rio home linked to Lessa when they raided it. Investigators said that Lessa, who had been forced to retire from the police after being severely injured in a car bomb attack, was a contract killer and gunrunner for the militia group.
Ronnie Lessa had been living in the same luxury condominium building where Bolsonaro owns an apartment. What’s more, in January 2019, it emerged that Flávio Bolsonaro, the eldest son of President Jair Bolsonaro, had employed the wife and mother of the militia group’s founder, “Capitão Adriano.” As well as being implicated in the murder of Marielle Franco, Adriano Nóbrega also allegedly participated in a salary kick-back scheme, known as “rachadinha,” involving Flávio Bolsonaro.
An operation, dubbed “The Untouchables” (Os Intocáveis), was carried out in January 2019 to arrest key militia members operating in the Rio das Pedras favela. Among the five people arrested was the military police officer Ronaldo Paulo Alves Pereira, who allegedly took part in the assassination of Marielle Franco.
Escritório do Crime exercises high levels of criminal governance over the Rio das Pedras favela by providing essential services and engaging in extortion rackets and murder-for-hire operations. According to police investigations, the militia group were charging up to 1.5 million reais ($300,000) per victim.
The criminal group have a monopoly over illegal sales of gas, Internet access, transportation, mining and even oil theft, and the extortion money is then used to fund illegal real estate in Rio de Janeiro.
In April 2019, two residential buildings collapsed in the community of Muzema in Rio de Janeiro, killing at least four people. A police operation revealed that the buildings had been constructed illegally. A further investigation revealed that Escritório do Crime had financed the construction of a number of these buildings, selling illegal apartments off for thousands of dollars.
The current leader of the criminal group is unknown. Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega, alias “Capitão Adriano,” was the notorious alleged leader of Escritório do Crime until his death in February 2020.
Then, Leonardo Gouvêa da Silva, alias “Mad,” took over as the top leader until his arrest in June 2020 in an operation along with his brother Leandro Gouvêa da Silva, alias “Tonhão.” The brothers allegedly had a very close relationship with Capitão Adriano.
The Escritório do Crime group’s base of operations is the Rio das Pedras favela in Rio’s West Zone.
While Rio de Janeiro is widely known as the militia stronghold, several Brazilian news outlets have analysed data that suggests militias are expanding their territorial control and criminal activities across Brazil.
According to an analysis of data acquired from Disque 100, a reporting line for Brazil’s Human Rights Ministry that records complaints of crimes and human rights violation, militia activity was reported in 15 states across the country between 2016 and 2017.
Allies and Enemies
Militia groups in Rio de Janeiro have strong ties to public officials and security forces which allows them to operate with impunity. The country’s recent municipal elections were marked by violence as militias sought to infiltrate the electoral process.
Militia groups are continuing to expand their influence in Rio de Janeiro and other large cities, posing an increasingly significant threat to Brazil’s national security. While its top leader, Adriano Nóbrega, is now dead, Escritório do Crime looks set to continue its operations as it forges closer alliances with local politicians and collects even more extortion payments from communities and businesses.