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Cablegate: Brazilian Cops Bust Immigrant Smuggling Ring

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY. A year long investigation into immigrant
smuggling, dubbed Operation America, resulted in 30 arrests
on November 28 and the breakup of a smuggling network
responsible for moving 3,500 illegal Brazilians through
Mexico to the U.S. each year. The arrests were widely
reported in the national press. Gang members were active in
the states of Sao Paulo, Minas Gerias, Rio de Janiero and
Parana. The investigation was initiated following meetings
between the Sao Paulo Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU), the
Regional Security Office and the Sao Paulo State Prosecutors
in 2004. Operation America involved an unprecedented level
of cooperation between the Civil Police of Sao Paulo, the
Federal Highway Police, the Public Ministry in the State of
Sao Paulo - with the assistance of the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security and the Secret Service. END SUMMARY

2. (U) In September 2004 Sao Paulo FPU and RSO met with Sao
Paulo state prosecutors to share information learned from
deported Brazilians who had been victimized by immigration
smugglers. Following this meeting, an investigation was
launched by state prosecutor Fabio Bechara, who is
responsible for the city of Guarulhos where the Sao Paulo
International Airport is located. Mr. Bechara began the
investigation by interviewing deportees arriving back in
Brazil. Over the course of a year, the investigation grew
to involve the Civil Police of Sao Paulo, the Federal
Highway Police and the Public Ministry in the State of Sao
Paulo -- as well as the U.S. Secret Service and Immigration
and Customs Enforcement.

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3. (U) These investigations uncovered a well-organized group
of smugglers that operated in the four neighboring states of
Sao Paulo, Minas Gerias, Rio de Janiero and Parana.
According to Mr. Bechara, people in each state were
responsible for different aspects of the smuggling
operation. Recruitment was handled in Minas Gerais.
Potential immigrants were enticed by false promises of easy
employment in the United States. Most of the immigrants
originated from the Governador Valadares region of that
state. Additionally, gang members within Minas Gerais
obtained false Brazilian passports for their clients. In
Rio de Janeiro and Parana, network members provided airline
tickets -- often purchased using false or cloned credit
cards. Finally, Sao Paulo personnel handled transportation
and housing around the Guarulhos international airport.

4. (SBU) Immigration and Customs Enforcement cooperated with
the immigration smuggling aspect of the investigation. The
U.S. Secret Service became involved with the discovery of
the credit card cloning operation. As part of the overall
operation, a second ring producing counterfeit credit cards
was discovered and its printing plant shut down.
Approximately 330 credit cards, laptops, desktops, and
encoders were found at one suspect's residence. These
credit cards were then sold to others who purchased airline
tickets to Mexico. More arrests are pending.

5. (SBU) In November, before the announcement of the
arrests, FPU and RSO met with Robson Feitosa da Silva from
the Sao Paulo civil police. Mr. Feitosa da Silva was a
primary investigator and traveled under cover to Mexico with
a group of illegal immigrants. He claimed immigrants paid
between U.S.$8,000-12,000 for passage to the U.S. and would
often have to mortgage their houses or enter into debt-
peonage arrangements with the smugglers to pay for the
journey. He also stated that American Airlines and Air
France had lost close to $1 million and $3 million
respectively due to false payment schemes. For example, a
travel agency in Parana would make a reservation, payment
would then be made in Rio with a cloned credit card and the
ticket would finally be issued out of Sao Paulo.

5. (U) COMMENT: While the investigation began as a result of
the Consulate's meetings with state prosecutors, the
discovery of the use of cloned credit cards to buy airline
tickets led to the creation of the larger investigation that
resulted in the arrests reported herein. While it is
encouraging to see a qualitative success result from
cooperation among Brazilian police forces, Brazilian
government agencies across state lines, and U.S. law and
consular services, it is worthy to note that the Federal
Police in Governador Valadares have strongly denounced the
operation. Mr. Rui Antonio da Silva, the head of the
Federal Police in Governador Valadares, criticized both the
Sao Paulo civil police and the Federal Highway police for
superseding their jurisdiction.


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