HomeNewsBriefArrests Show Reach of Colombia Prison-Based Extortion Gangs
BRIEF

Arrests Show Reach of Colombia Prison-Based Extortion Gangs

COLOMBIA / 5 AUG 2014 BY JAMES BARGENT EN

Police in Colombia have dismantled a prison-based extortion gang that operated in numerous prisons and cities across the country, demonstrating just how coordinated and sophisticated such networks have become.

Colombia’s anti-extortion and kidnapping police, the Gaula, have arrested 16 women and 5 men they say were running an extortion gang known as “Los Presidios,” reported El Tiempo.

The gang operated out of at least eight prisons and in cities spanning the breadth of the northern half of the country, from Cucuta on the Venezuelan border to Cartagena on the northern coast.

According to police, they principally targeted small businesses, transport operators, loan companies and lawyers, identifying potential victims from sources such as business cards, classified advertisements and the telephone directory, and collecting intelligence from family members, other inmates and accomplices.

Gang members would then ring from prison pretending to be members of armed groups such as the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and demanding items such as weapons and uniforms. When their victims said they could not obtain these, they would demand one-off payments instead, reported El Universal.

Police said 48 victims of the gang have been identified, but they believe up to 500 people were affected.

InSight Crime Analysis

Colombia has long been plagued by extortion gangs operating from prison, which accounts for a significant slice of what by some estimates is a racket worth $1 billion a year.

What this latest case shows is just how sophisticated this practice has become. To coordinate activities across eight prisons, both women’s and men’s, and to operate in so many cities — presumably with accomplices on the outside in each one — demonstrates extremely high levels of coordination.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion

Sometimes extortion is carried out by imprisoned members of armed groups, but just as often it is common criminals relying on trickery such as Los Presidios. As in this case, prisoners can pretend to be members of armed groups. On other occasions, they have pretended to be family members in trouble.

To tackle prison-based extortion, Colombian authorities have begun blocking cell phone signals in 12 prisons and plan to roll it out to 4 more over the course of this year.

The tactic can prove effective at combating prison-based extortion, although it is not without problems. Blocking signals is not a precise art and will often knock out the signal for residents and businesses around the prison.

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

ARGENTINA / 15 JAN 2020

Welcome to InSight Crime's Criminal GameChangers 2019, where we highlight the most important trends in organized crime in the Americas…

ÁGUILAS NEGRAS / 2 APR 2019

The name of a supposedly dismantled paramilitary group has appeared on pamphlets and other communiques threatening Colombian politicians, journalists and…

COLOMBIA / 21 MAY 2013

While the demobilization of the M-19 rebel movement is perhaps the most famous guerrilla peace deal in Colombia's history, the…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Strategic Communications Manager Job Description

12 FEB 2021

InSight Crime is looking for a full-time strategic communications manager. This person needs to be able to work in a fast-paced world of daily news, high-profile investigations, national and international…

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …