Prosecutors in Peru say a criminal group co-opted police and judicial officials so that it could continue running its operations from behind bars, an illustration of how corruption has helped turn prisons into hubs for illicit activity throughout Latin America.
Anti-organized crime prosecutors allege that the criminal group known as "La Gran Familia" ("The Big Family"), a gang involved in an assortment of criminal activities, corrupted members of Peru's National Police in an attempt to obtain intelligence information and recover seized assets, reported Diario Correo. The prosecutors are asking for an oral trial of 37 suspects thought to belong to the group.
Wiretaps conducted as part of the criminal investigation also revealed that the group penetrated the National Penitentiary Institute, which prosecutors say enabled the gang to smuggle in drugs, cellphones and other prohibited items.
In addition, the Gran Familia's incarcerated leader, Ángel Román León Arévalo, alias “Viejo Paco,” allegedly established contacts within the Supreme Court for the northern city of Lambayeque in order to obtain favorable sentences for the group's members.
Numerous Gran Familia operatives have been arrested, but at least two prominent members are still wanted by the authorities, according to Diario Correo. The group has also reportedly cultivated connections with extortion gangs in Colombia and Ecuador.
InSight Crime Analysis
Running operations from inside a prison offers criminal groups in Latin America a number of advantages. For one, criminal groups often gain de facto control over the facilities, which enables them to consolidate their organizational structure without facing violent reprisals from rivals. Prison-based groups have also managed to project their influence onto the streets; criminals want to be on good terms with the incarcerated bosses since they know there is a good chance they will have to share the same confined quarters at some point in the future.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Prisons
In the case of the Gran Familia, it appears the group relied on corrupting the authorities in order to protect their financial interests and ensure access to items like cellphones, which are often used to make extortion calls and conduct other illicit business. But the group is hardly alone in using this tactic, as a large number of extortion calls in countries from across the region emanate from within prison walls.
Brazil's ruthless prison gangs, the incarcerated leaders of El Salvador's "mara" street gangs and Venezuela's "pranes," or prison bosses, are all examples of how organized crime has ironically flourished in institutions set up to punish and reform criminal behavior.