Authorities in Argentina have implicated police and prosecutors in an illegal gambling ring linked to the infamous Los Monos crime group, underscoring how the coronavirus pandemic has provided yet more opportunity for official corruption.
Five people were charged on July 23 in connection to the illegal ring, which operated several illegal gambling houses in the city of Rosario under the direction of imprisoned Monos leader Ariel Máximo Cantero, alias “Guille,” Rosario Plus reported.
Among those accused are former police chief Alejandro Torrisi, who was arrested exiting an illegal casino with an envelope of cash in hand. He allegedly helped get imprisoned gang members released while also managing some of the gambling houses, according to La Capital.
In March, Argentina shuttered its legal casinos as part of the coronavirus lockdown, a move that appears to have driven gamblers to seek illicit alternatives, according to Argentina's State Lottery Association (Asociación de Loterías Estatales -- ALEA).
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Guille allegedly sent members of the group to extort both legal and illegal businesses in Rosario. The funds obtained were then invested back into the gambling houses, which operated with the help of official corruption.
“We started to see evidence that this group had possibly taken over this business through extortion and with [the help of] former police officers. ... We are facing a huge problem,” Santa Fe's Security Secretary Marcelo Sain told local media.
The recent revelations stem from an ongoing investigation into a January shooting at Rosario’s City Center Casino allegedly carried out by Los Monos member Maximiliano Díaz, alias “Cachete," who was also charged in the illegal gambling and extortion case. Authorities believe the shooting at the city’s largest casino is linked to the gang’s extortion activities, according to Clarín.
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With local legal casinos closed as part of restrictions placed on businesses to try and curtail the spread of the virus, illegal gambling houses operated in part by Los Monos are growing increasingly popular.
Illegal gambling is big business in Argentina. In 2016, it was estimated to generate about 50 billion pesos per year (nearly $3 billion) in Buenos Aires Province alone. That same year, new laws imposed harsher penalties on those running illegal gambling operations and authorities began raiding clandestine casinos throughout the country. But now that legal means of gambling remain closed, illegal gambling is once again thriving.
"Without legal gambling, clandestine gambling is growing. For example, without lotteries in Argentina, illegal gambling has been working with betting in Montevideo [the capital of Uruguay], which hasn't stopped ... and with the easing of quarantine rules, the so-called gambling dens will continue to operate," Ariel Fassione, secretary of Argentina's union of gambling workers, told La Nación in May.
SEE ALSO: Los Monos Profile
Official corruption in Rosario has only helped. The city’s police are notoriously underpaid and often involved in drug trafficking and other types of organized crime. In 2018, nine police officers were convicted for being part of Los Monos. The following year, six more police officers, including Santa Fe’s federal police chief, were charged with drug trafficking.
That said, the latest operation against the illegal extortion and gambling ring comes at a time when authorities are actively attempting to clean up the police force.
When Sain took office last December, La Nación reported he led a “purge” of the province’s police force, firing all 31 local police chiefs. Now, he is spearheading a set of security reforms meant to reorganize and professionalize the police, as well as establish an inspector general and disciplinary tribunal.