Authorities in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil have arrested 21 members of a militia that includes members of the security forces and is run by jailed leaders, another example of the strength of these paramilitary-style criminal groups.
According to Estadao, a total of 27 arrest warrants and 90 search and seizure warrants were issued against the "Justice League," reportedly one of the most violent criminal organizations operating in western Rio. Suspects detained included the alleged current leader, Marcos Jose de Lima Gomes, alias "Gao," and 13 current and former members of the civil and military police, army, fire department and penitentiary administration.
Police said the group charged fees for utilities and security services, targeting 5,000 residents in 1,600 apartments distributed across six low-income housing blocks in the Campo Grande neighborhood, reported Folha. The group also forced residents to buy gas and food from them at triple the regular price and took over apartments that they rented or sold, reported Estadao. The militia is believed to have made over $450,000 per month from these activities.
Those who refused to make the required payments were tortured, killed or evicted, reported Veja.
Investigators believe the militia receives orders from imprisoned former military police officers Ricardo Teixeira da Cruz, alias "Batman," and Toni Angelo Souza Aguiar, alias "the Erotic," who in turn operated on behalf of two jailed ex-politicians.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Justice League has been operating in Rio de Janeiro for years, under a similar modus operandi as that described in the recent operations. It is notable that this militia continues to operate -- and has even apparently increased profits -- despite the imprisonment of key leaders, which points to their power and official connections.
The two politicians leading the operation -- Natalino Guimaraes and his brother Jerominho -- have both been incarcerated since 2008, and Teixeira da Cruz has reportedly continued directing operations from federal prison since 2009.
The Rio militias were originally formed by police and civilians to combat the city's violent drug gangs -- the most prominent of which is the Red Command -- but later became involved in their own criminal operations. As in the case of the Justice League, their activities were facilitated by close ties to both law enforcement and the local government. Militias have also spread to other regions of the country, including Bahia state.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Brazil Militias
This criminalization of militia groups has been seen in other countries in Latin America, most notably in the case of Colombia's paramilitaries, but also with certain vigilante groups in Mexico accused of cartel ties.