A 10-hour conference call that gang members hosted from inside a São Paulo jail highlights how gang leaders in Brazil are able to directly conduct their "business" from the safety of their prison cells.
A Federal Police recording recently heard by Folha de São Paulo involves a 10-hour discussion between five members of the First Capital Command (PCC) gang. The conversation involved two inmates and three gang members based outside of the prison. According to the newspaper, the talk was all business: topics included trafficking drugs to Paraguay and Bolivia, and the distribution of marijuana and cocaine inside Brazil.
The call, recorded on February 10, 2011, was one of many recorded between October 2010 and May 2012 as part of an ongoing investigation known as Operation Leviatã, targeting organized crime in São Paulo. The Ministry of Justice, which is currently processing the recordings, said that on average such conference calls involve four gang members, although recordings illustrate that as many nine gang members have taken part in a single call.
When asked about the conference calls, the Secretary of Penitentiary Administration responded that actions had been taken to prevent the entrance and use of cell phones within prisons.
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The PCC is now a nationwide threat in Brazil due in part to its leadership’s ability to capitalize on weak controls in the national prison system and run the gang from the inside. In 2006, PCC founder Marcos Willians Herbas Camacho, alias "Marcola," who is currently serving a 29-year sentence in the prison where the 10-hour conference call was made, was quoted as saying, "Here in prison you cannot come and kill me but I can arrange for you to be killed out there."
Attempts by police and prison authorities to limit inmate contact with outside criminal networks have been largely unsuccessful. According to Folha de São Paulo, prisons have so far failed to block cell phone reception, though the use of metal detectors and X-ray screenings has occasionally halted the entrance of phones into the cell blocks.
The struggle to limit outside communication is part of a larger regional problem facing prisons around Latin America. At La Picota prison in Colombia, for example, where officials were able to successfully block cell phone reception, inmates were able to set up their own antennae, ensuring continued contact and participation in their criminal networks on the outside.