José Virgilio Sánchez Montoya, alias “Pechocho"

Authorities in Honduras are investigating whether a recently captured alleged gang member escaped from prison unnoticed by swapping his identity with another inmate, a situation that raises questions about corruption and incompetence in the country's penitentiary system.

An alleged leader of the Barrio 18 gang, José Virgilio Sánchez Montoya, alias "Pechocho," was captured by authorities on May 27 despite the fact that he should have been serving a 500-year sentence for alleged ties to a massacre of 17 people, reported El Heraldo.

Authorities had originally touted the incident as a case of mistaken identity. Representatives of the country's National Prison Institute (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario – INP) insisted that Pechocho never left the El Pozo penitentiary.

"This was a capture, not a recapture ... because nobody escaped from El Pozo," German McNiel, INP deputy director, was reported by La Prensa as saying.

However, fingerprint tests confirmed the Pechocho arrested on May 27 was in fact supposed to be detained in the maximum-security El Pozo prison. Sources told La Prensa that Pechocho had escaped from El Pozo two months ago.

The INP has said that it will investigate the possibility that this was a case of identity fraud. The INP said new tests will be carried out to establish the real identity of the suspect captured on May 27 and an individual who was already serving time in El Pozo under the same name. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The fact that Honduran authorities seem at a loss to explain the confusion surrounding Pechocho and his apparent escape speaks volumes about the severe problems affecting the country's prisons.

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

Authorities in Honduras have already warned that criminals have begun to exchange their names and aliases with individuals with similar physical features in order to avoid prison and operate undisturbed in the outside world. If Pechocho's escape involved this type of identity fraud, it would indicate that even El Pozo -- supposedly one of the most secure penitentiaries in the country -- is vulnerable to this kind of scam.

It is also possible that corruption or simple incompetence could be part of the explanation. The extent of the dysfunction in Honduras' prison system was put on display last month by the escape of more than 60 prisoners in just two weeks from various detention facilities.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
Prev Next

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

In May 2011, a 26-year-old prison gang leader held 4,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, at bay for weeks. Humiliated nationally and internationally, it pushed President Hugo Chávez into a different and disastrous approach to the prison system.

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...