Brazilian prison gang, the PCC, has laundered an estimated $15 million of drug money through accounts opened by relatives of jailed members, demonstrating the growing sophistication of the gang’s criminal tactics.
The money-laundering scheme was exposed as a result of “Operation Welfare," a series of police raids across the state of São Paulo targeting suspects associated with the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC). Arrested during the operation were 35 people, including 19 women.
SEE ALSO: First Capital Command (PCC) Profile
According to the São Paulo police, the scheme worked by bribing visitors of detainees to allow the deposit and transfer PCC money through their bank accounts. These visitors, mostly wives and girlfriends of newer gang members, were offered assistance with transport, rent and medical expenses in exchange for their collaboration.
In this way, the PCC is believed to have laundered at least $280,000 per month from drug trafficking since 2013.
Among those arrested in the raids was a criminal known as “Motoboy," believed to be responsible for administering the scheme. Motoboy coordinated with PCC cells inside the state’s prisons to enlist the visitors, and then coordinated the withdrawal of the money channeled through their accounts.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although the PCC has long maintained a large-scale drug trafficking network, the sums laundered through this system provide fresh evidence of the sheer scale of these operations and the elaborate mechanisms used to conceal them.
The prison gang, formed in the early 1990s, first entered the drug trade by coordinating trafficking inside Brazil's jails. By 2012, the group's drug trafficking profits had ballooned to $32 million a year. The PCC has since expanded its operations across the continent.
Ledgers seized in 2018 revealed that the PCC had developed large-scale money laundering strategies, including through currency exchange businesses and gas stations purchased with illicit funds. The recent bust shows that the group is also laundering millions through mechanisms that are more subtle and harder to trace.
The scheme builds on the PCC’s history of exploiting imprisoned members and their female relatives. The group charges “union dues” from members in jail, and in 2015 was found to be bribing women to deliver information and communications devices to detainees.
These patterns of exploitation are becoming increasingly common across the continent. In Guatemala, for instance, gangs have been found to be using the bank accounts of their wives and girlfriends to launder the profits from extortion.