A cargo-theft ring in Rio de Janeiro partnered with a drug gang to steal millions of dollars worth of goods, showing how criminal actors in Brazil come together to commit big heists.
During the past three years, the group’s gunmen committed dozens of brazen robberies throughout the city, hijacking trucks and raiding warehouses, Globo reported. Authorities estimated that the group ripped off 200 million Brazilian reais ($30 million) in goods since 2018.
Violent thefts by the gang included a hold-up of a cargo terminal in Río’s Galeão International Airport to steal a load of cell phones and a raid on a supermarket distribution that left two security guards dead.
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Police identified one of the ringleaders as Leonardo Santos Costa Falcão, “alias Léo GTA,” who was involved in a 2019 car theft that led to a shootout with police in which a 12-year-old boy was shot and killed by a stray bullet. He was arrested on July 17 at a motel.
Falcão had last been seen on surveillance video that captured the highway robbery of 120,000 reais (about $23,000) in cigarettes. Wearing traffic vests, he and the other gunmen used a stolen trailer to take off with the cigarettes while lookouts shot at police.
Composed of some 80 criminals, the cargo-theft ring committed audacious, violent and cinematic-like heists, police official Hilton Alonso told Globo.
“They already have inside information to know what they want, usually cell phones. They already know the day when they have more of this load. Everything is organized and planned.”
InSight Crime Analysis
Powerful drug gangs in Rio bring key elements to these violent and sophisticated robberies.
The drug gangs provide firepower and control neighborhoods, providing places to hide from authorities and stash stolen goods. According to the police, four neighborhoods in Rio served as the bases for the cargo theft ring.
The drug gangs are also positioned to fence stolen goods, particularly alcohol, cigarettes and electronics, which are commonly sold on the black market. Because of their network, the drug gangs can also bribe warehouse and customs personnel for information about truck routes and valuable cargo loads.
The gangs earn a steady stream of cash from the robberies. According to police, 50 percent of the revenue from the heists goes to them.
Cargo theft continues to be a massive criminal problem in Brazil. An estimated $558 million a year is lost in stolen goods in Brazil.
The robberies are often audacious. In March of 2018, five men stole $5 million from a Lufthansa plane. In a separate attack, gunmen stole 720 kilograms of gold valued at $30 million from a São Paulo airport cargo terminal in broad daylight without firing a single shot.
The collaboration between drug traffickers and gangs involved in highway robberies extends to other parts of Latin America. In Mexico, cargo thieves operate on highways controlled by drug groups, robbing roughly 36 trucks every day.