The leader of Venezuela’s most powerful gang, which ran amok for years in a prison where it created its own mini-city, reportedly earned $3 million a year.
Hector Guerrero, 39, lined his pockets from the comfort of a palatial two-story home at the Tocorón Penitentiary Center in the north-central state of Aragua.
The boss of the national Tren de Aragua gang received a discount of several million euros for extortion, car theft, kidnapping, human trafficking, migrant smuggling and arms and drug trafficking.
Guerrero, alias “El Niño” (the Child), allegedly charged inmates $15 to $20 weekly or monthly to live in the prison, which he transformed into a city complete with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, a zoo and a baseball arena .
The crime lord, who was serving a 17-year prison sentence, is believed to have handed over control of the prison to Venezuelan authorities and was tipped off ahead of Wednesday’s raid, which was led by 11,000 soldiers and police, Venezuelan police said. Prisons Observatory (VPO), a non-governmental organization.
It is now feared that El Niño has moved to Colombia or Peru.
Tren de Aragua’s leader, Héctor “Niño” Guerrero, reportedly earned $3 million a year while imprisoned in the Tocorón prison center in the Venezuelan state of Aragua. Security forces raided the prison on Wednesday, but by then the 39-year-old gang boss had already fled
The Tren de Aragua controlled the Tocorón prison center and had its own cockfighting ring
Grenades seized at the Tocorón prison center were displayed during a press conference on Thursday, a day after authorities took control of the prison in Aragua, Venezuela
THE VPO estimates that eight of the 53 prisons nationwide are controlled by the Tren de Aragua.
Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported that between 400 and 500 prisoners fled the prison, where the gang set up a zoo with wild animals to intimidate prisoners and government officials, dined in a restaurant, partied in a nightclub, gambled in a cockfighting ring, swam in an underground swimming pool and baseball and softball played on a well-maintained field.
The gang also set up small huts where captured members lived with their families and had access to the internet and satellite television.
Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos told reporters on Thursday that 60 gang members had been captured and authorities were searching for the remaining refugees.
The government announced that plans were being made to renovate the prison after detainees were transferred to other prisons.
“Tocorón is over,” Ceballos said after officials displayed seized ammunition, explosives and bitcoin mining machines. ‘We guarantee that we will take full control. The Venezuelan state has taken full control.”
Héctor ‘Niño’ Guerrero was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2018 after pleading guilty to three counts of murder, robbery and drug trafficking
Venezuelan authorities said two prisoners were captured on Wednesday after fleeing the Tocorón detention center in Aragua, Venezuela.
Prisoners in Tocorón’s prison center sit next to each other after 11,000 police and soldiers stormed the prison and took back control on Wednesday
Pictured: The local nightclub ‘Tokyo’ is seen in photos taken after the raid
Bitcoin mining machines were seized from a room in the Tocorón prison controlled by the Tren de Aragua, the most powerful gang in Venezuela
While making no mention of Guerrero’s whereabouts, Peruvian network Latina TV reported Thursday that the Tren de Aragua boss was hiding in Peru or Colombia, two of the five South American countries where the criminal network was expanding its activities.
Colombia’s former defense minister, Diego Molano, believes Guerrero may seek refuge in Bogotá, the Andean country’s capital.
He called on Bogotá Mayor Claudia López to issue security warnings in the city, where the Tren de Aragua is believed to be active.
Molano wrote on
Prisoners from the Tocorón Detention Center lined up outside the prison building before authorities began transferring them to other detention centers
Guerrero’s criminal career dates back to 2000, when he started selling drugs and attacking police.
He began attracting the attention of authorities in 2005 when he attacked a police station and killed a police officer, according to Insight Crime, a Washington think tank.
Guerrero rose through the ranks of the gangs to become its leader, but was arrested in 2010 on three murder charges.
The Tren de Aragua gang made sure its members and other prisoners felt like they were actually free by installing an underground swimming pool next to a children’s playground.
Inmates played softball and baseball on a well-maintained field in the prison that also had lights
He was imprisoned in Tocorón Prison and escaped in 2012. He was captured and returned to the detention center in 2013, but was surprisingly seen at a party in the Aragua capital Maracay in 2015.
In 2017, Guerrero pleaded guilty to murder, home invasion, gun possession, drug trafficking and prison escape, and was convicted the following year.
Despite the 17-year prison sentence, the Tren de Aragua became more powerful under Guerrero and as of 2020 has as many as 1,000 members, ties to four other gangs and a presence in 14 states throughout Venezuela and even in Brazil, Chile and Ecuador.
“A success would have been the capture of ‘The Kid Guerrero’ and his people. They have always acted in complicity with the authorities,” VPO director Humberto Prado told the BBC. “This is a very serious situation, firstly because of the high risk, but secondly because it does not only concern Venezuela. All Latin American countries must be alert.”