A group that used homeless people to smuggle cell phones and drugs into Costa Rican prisons is under investigation, the second time such a ring has been exposed in two months.
The group recruited homeless men and women off the streets of San José and then forced them to visit prisons with the items hidden in their rectums or vaginas, reported La Nación.
Behind the ring were a brother and sister, who were arrested along with two other people and charged with human trafficking after a September 20 police raid. The traffickers gave the homeless people baths, new clothes and food, and then sent them to the prisons.
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It’s unclear how long the group was in operation, but in late August, police arrested two men and a woman who attacked a man outside the Luis Paulino Mora prison in Alajuela. The man told police that the assault occurred after he refused to smuggle a cell phone into the prison. He left the visitors line twice until finally alerting authorities to the scheme.
InSight Crime Analysis
Cell phone smuggling by gangs and their accomplices is rampant in Costa Rica's prisons, and the abuse suffered by the homeless men and women is another example of vulnerable populations being exploited in the service of organized crime.
Criminal groups pay between $100 and $700 to obtain the smuggled phones, which can be sold to inmates for as much as $1,400, according to La Nación. The inmates then often use the cell phones to continue their extortion rackets and drug trafficking operations outside prison walls.
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The black market trade “moves a lot of money,” Pablo Bertozzi, Costa Rica’s prison director, told La Nación in June of 2018.
Some 10,014 phones were confiscated in Costa Rican prisons between 2015 and 2018, but that amount represents only a portion of the phones circulating in the jails, according to authorities.
Part of the problem is that punishments are minimal for cell phone smuggling, and most people caught only receive small fines or even just warnings. This only fuels the trade and may even give smugglers more of an incentive to take risks -- such as with abusing homeless men and women.
What's more, criminal groups have long taken advantage of at-risk populations. Human traffickers target impoverished girls and women for sex trafficking or to act as drug mules; cartels in Mexico recruit adolescents; and Venezuelan migrants in Colombia are used to pick coca leaves and for work as prostitutes.