Residents of a city in central Rio de Janeiro say that the mafia-like criminal faction has dominated all aspects of society. 

Civil police guard fake cigarettes and jewelry seized from militia members (Photo: C.H. Gardiner)

Civil police guard fake cigarettes and jewelry seized from militia members (Photo: C.H. Gardiner)

Just 40 km from Rio de Janeiro, the city of Itaboraí has been taken over by a dangerous militia that uses violence and intimidation to enter into the fabric of the city’s society.

Police conducted a massive operation Thursday morning throughout Rio de Janeiro state with the goal of dismantling the organization which started acting in the region in late 2017.

Militias are mafia-like organizations that takes advantage of voids in local security infrastructure to establish control of regions. They then make money through protection rackets and selling bootleg goods and services.

Authorities said that the militia acting in Itabroaí acted in a particularly violent fashion. In March the criminal organization cut out the heart of 25-year-old moto-taxi driver Wanderson da Silva Oliveira after they suspected that he had provided information to criminal rivals on an accomplice.

Locals to the city told the Rio Times Thursday that it was common practice for the militia to “disappear” people, killing them and then hiding the bodies in clandestine graveyards. They said that the militias were so sure of their control they would commit the killings in broad daylight.

Prosecutor Rômulo Santos Silva said that the Itaboraí militia was known to cut off the heads of its victims and that family members were threatened not to go to the police.

Members of the organization are said to be so ingrained in the society of the city that they even drive patrol cars from the local Civil Police unit – although authorities said the vehicle might have been cloned. In a call to a local school demanding payment of a protection fee, the members of the militia offered for a patrol car to stop by the school to pick up the money.

One of the leaders of the organization, former police officer Alexandre Loback Gemininiani, escaped authorities by jumping from his fourth-floor apartment building when police arrived. In his house, authorities found several weapons, ammunition, and money. Geminiani’s girlfriend was also arrested at the apartment.

Authorities said that the militia generates R$500,000 ($125,000) per month from its illicit activities in the region. Besides the protection racket, the militia would also force local merchants to sell gas canisters and fake cigarettes for the organization.

Police were surprised to see that the Itaboraí militia had an abnormally high number of women acting in the organization, including in high-level management positions.

Militias have become one of the dominant criminal organizations in Rio de Janeiro in recent years. They started as para-military organizations composed of off-duty police and firefighters to fight the endemic narcotics organizations in the region, but they quickly devolved into de facto criminal organizations of their own.

As the militias have captured more territory, they have not only come into greater conflict with narco-traffickers but with authorities themselves.