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Extortionist works the phone in a Mexico City penitentiary. Extortionist works the phone in a Mexico City penitentiary.

This Mexico City jail is more like a call center

Extortionists work the phones in plain view of guards, other inmates

Video footage from the inside of a penitentiary in Mexico City shows inmates busy at work — operating a call center.

But instead of conducting telephone surveys or attempting to sell goods and services, inmates in Dormitory 7 of the Reclusorio Preventivo Norte are engaged in extortion.

For years it has been reported that Mexican penitentiaries like those in the states of Tamaulipas, Guanajuato, Chiapas and Morelos are the origin of many of the extortion or “false kidnapping” calls common in Mexico, but this is the first time that inmates have been filmed while conducting such activities.

The results of the hidden camera investigation were aired this week by Imagen TV after video and images were obtained with the aid of one of the inmates, who caught the professional extortionists at work.

That work carries on without any concealment, in full view of other inmates and guards. Many are seen impassively walking by while a call is in progress.

The newspaper Excélsior described the scene within the penitentiary as not too dissimilar from what one finds when entering a Starbucks: people sitting down with their gaze fixed on their phone screens, fingers on the keyboard and earphones firmly lodged in their ears.

A couple of guards were also recorded. One, identified as Crispín, even went into the details of how much it costs an inmate to have a mobile phone in his possession.

“Two varos [two thousand pesos, or just over US $90] per shift,” he said, adding that payment must be settled weekly.

Crispín also mentioned the names of the two higher ups who collect such payments: [Marcos] Márquez and Jaramillo.

Extortionists use several methods to elicit funds from their victims. One is el chillón, or crybaby, in which a woman, pretending to have been kidnapped, cries desperately for help. Make a bank deposit, the victim on the phone is assured, and she will be released.

In another, called la tía, or the aunt, inmates pretend to be bank clerks and try to persuade the victims to provide a bank account number so an aunt can send them money.

The video footage, recorded last April and aired on Ciro Gómez-Leyva’s nighttime news show, also included several calls made by one of the extortionists, identified with the pet name El Bombón, or marshmallow.

Faking a woman’s voice, El Bombón tries to pretend to be his victim’s sister. In the end, the ruse fails and the call is disconnected. With a sarcastic smile on his face, the convicted felon prepares to make another call.

Another inmate, identified as El Aviador, or the aviator, specializes in pretending to be a representative of a financial institution.

“Your family, sir, is sending you $8,000, or 137,625 pesos at today’s exchange rate,” El Aviador tells his victim, trying to obtain his bank account number.

The footage, obtained through a hidden camera, is part of a series that documents the illegal activities that take place every day within the jail.

With over 30 hours of recordings, Imagen TV plans to shine the spotlight on crimes such as drug trafficking and corruption.

Source: Excélsior (sp)

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