A criminal borrowed the surname of the imprisoned Monos gang boss to receive extortion payments from businesses in the Argentine city of Rosario – a play that smacks of a copycat or franchise operation.
Prosecutors allege that Gastón Ezequiel Escalante attempted to extort large sums of cash from businesses by posing as a Monos gang member named Pablo Cantero. Cantero is the surname of the fearsome clan's boss, Ariel Máximo Cantero, alias "Guille."
"I am the guy who is going around collecting in the area," Escalante can be heard saying in a recording included in court documents accessed by news outlet El Litoral.
Authorities said that no Pablo Cantero exists in the group.
SEE ALSO: The Monos Profile
Escalante, who is in prison on gang-related charges, demanded up to 10,000 pesos per week (about $100) in protection money from business owners. Those who refused faced their establishments being riddled with bullets or torched by Molotov cocktails, a tactic used by the Monos in the past and one recently adopted by other criminal groups in Rosario to intimidate their enemies.
Two of Escalante's associates collected the money, according to authorities. They were also charged in the case, which went before a judge in mid-November.
InSight Crime Analysis
Copycat extortion is a dangerous game played in other regions of Latin America home to violent gangs.
The tactic is particularly common in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where deadly street gangs impose control through extortion.
Countless criminals have passed themselves off as members of the feared Barrio 18 and MS13 gangs in order to extort victims. Guatemalan officials claim that one in four extortion attempts are the work of copycats, while El Salvador police officials say impersonators could be behind more than half of all extortion attempts.
In Argentina, the Monos have dominated Rosario's criminal landscape for more than two decades. Monos boss "Guille" Cantero has also shown a striking ability in recent years to continue to run the group's operations from his prison cell.
Impersonating a gang leader to collect from businesses on the group's behalf, though, is a far riskier tactic than the typical copycat. This raises the question of whether the Monos may be franchising: allowing other criminal gangs to use the Monos name for a cut of proceeds.
In Colombia, large criminal groups have been known to expand their influence this way. For example, the Urabeños have allowed gangs to use their name in certain territories to facilitate their drug trafficking or to take on rival groups.
The Monos may be making a similar move, which would provide them greater strength on the streets of Rosario while much of their leadership is in prison.
Whatever the case may be, the Cantero name clearly carries weight.