Marcos Willians Herbas Camacho, known by the aliases “Marcola” and “Playboy,” has been the top leader of Brazil’s biggest and most powerful criminal organization, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), since 2002. Marcola built notoriety in São Paulo’s underworld in the late 1990s through a series of bank robberies, before working his way up the ranks of the PCC. Although Marcola has spent the majority of his life in prison, he is thought to have run the PCC’s criminal operations from behind bars since the early 2000s.
Marcos Willians Herbas Camacho was born in São Paulo to a Bolivian father and Brazilian mother in 1968. Orphaned at nine, he began wandering the streets of the sprawling metropolis as a petty thief. Around this time, he earned his lifelong alias “Marcola” — a combination of his first name and the word “cola,” the Brazilian slang for a potent industrial glue that he often inhaled. Marcola’s criminal activities escalated from petty theft to more serious robberies, until he was arrested for the first time in 1986, for robbing a bank.
After his arrest, Marcola began serving time in the overpopulated and prisoner-controlled Carandiru prison in the city of São Paulo. In 1992, security forces massacred more than 100 inmates in Carandiru, setting the scene for the emergence of the PCC. The year after the Carandiru massacre, Marcola was transferred to another prison called Taubaté, in the interior of the state of São Paulo. By the time he arrived, a group of inmates — including PCC co-founders José Márcio Felício, alias “Geleião,” and Marcola’s childhood friend Dionísio César Leite, alias “Cesinha” — were beginning to form a prisoner rights group. Marcola stayed somewhat on the fringes of the group but was eventually baptized into what was then called the Crime Party (“Partido do Crime”).
Marcola was later transferred back to Carandiru, and he began to command increased respect among the inmates. He was also able to escape the prison several times to continue his criminal activities. As a fugitive, Marcola lived the majority of the time in Paraguay but often planned and executed large-scale robberies of banks and armored vehicles in São Paulo. By the late 1990s, he had developed a reputation as a notorious bank robber, earning the second alias “Playboy” because of his taste for fancy cars, expensive watches and designer clothes.
Marcola was already well established in São Paulo’s underworld when he decided it would be beneficial for him to officially join the Taubaté prisoner gang that had evolved into a criminal organization called the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC). Marcola, who is often described as a “devourer of books” and an “intellectual,” quickly moved up the ranks and became next-in-command to PCC co-founders Cesinha and Geleião.
In July 1999, the PCC carried out the biggest bank heist in São Paulo’s history, stealing more than 32 million Brazilian reais. Later that month, police in São Paulo spotted Marcola driving around in one of his imported luxury cars and arrested him. He has been in prison ever since.
Marcola was sentenced to 232 years and 11 months in maximum-security prison for robbery, drug trafficking, homicide and forming a criminal group. He began serving his prison sentence in the early 2000s. According to the book “Blood Ties: The PCC’s Secret History” (“Laços de Sangue: A História Secreta do PCC”), he may have served as a police informant, using his lawyer and ex-wife Ana Maria Olivatto to pass information to authorities including cell phone numbers used by imprisoned PCC leaders Cesinha and Geleião. Based on authorities’ recordings of conversations on these phone lines, both PCC leaders were moved into isolation at São Paulo’s maximum-security Presidente Bernardes prison.
The PCC leaders may have suspected a betrayal on the part of Marcola. In 2002, Cesinha was suspected of ordering Olivatto’s murder, and Geleião reportedly provided authorities with information that led to the arrest of several members of Marcola’s inner circle that year. Nevertheless, Marcola seemed to retain the trust of other members of the PCC and took over as the group’s top leader. He began establishing a new prison-based communications network that relied on a team of lawyers to pass messages between imprisoned leaders.
Under Marcola’s leadership, the PCC expanded outside of prison walls and started to function as an increasingly sophisticated criminal organization involved in lucrative illicit activities like drug trafficking. In 2006, after authorities announced plans to move hundreds of prisoners, including Marcola, into higher-security prison conditions, the PCC organized a series of huge prison rebellions and coordinated attacks in São Paulo that left more than 150 dead and brought the city to a virtual standstill.
In the aftermath of the deadly 2006 attacks, Marcola gained cult notoriety in Brazil when a fictitious “interview,” attributed to the PCC leader was published by O Globo columnist Arnaldo Jabor, which stoked fears about criminal violence and control. In 2017 and 2018, the same fake interview was recirculated on social media and messaging platforms like WhatsApp, shining a spotlight on Marcola once again.
The interview was an illustration of both the PCC’s real and virtual control of many areas in Brazil. The group acts as a parallel state in much of the country, administering justice, providing employment and giving protection from other, rival predatory criminal organizations or from state security forces.
Throughout Marcola’s prison sentence, he has continued to act as the PCC’s top leader despite being moved to different prisons around Brazil and put into long-term isolation. In 2014, he had to be relocated after officials discovered the PCC was planning to free him using a helicopter painted with military designs. A similar plan was thwarted in 2018, and required that Marcola and 21 other top PCC members be moved again.
In February of that year, Marcola was also sentenced to an additional 30 years in prison for directing the network of lawyers that helped exchange messages between the PCC’s imprisoned leaders and paid bribes on behalf of the criminal group to public officials.
Marcola gained notoriety as a bank robber before moving up the ranks of the PCC, and eventually taking on the role of the group’s top leader. Under his management, the PCC has expanded its drug and arms trafficking activities across Brazil and in neighboring countries like Bolivia and Paraguay.
Although Marcola has been imprisoned in various prisons in São Paulo for much of the last three decades, under his leadership, the PCC has expanded its reach far beyond its stronghold in Brazil’s most populous and economically important state. The group has established a presence in many areas across Brazil, it has developed ties in nearly every country in South America, and it has formed relationships with several European crime groups.
Allies and Enemies
Authorities have identified Gilberto Aparecido Dos Santos, alias “Fuminho,” as the PCC’s second-in-command and top member not behind bars. Several other top leaders, including Rogério Jeremias de Simone, alias “Gegê del Mangue,” and Fabiano Alves de Souza, alias “Paca,” were killed in 2018 for stealing money from the organization. Marcola’s brother Alejandro Juvenal Herbas Camacho Júnior, alias “Marcolinha,” continues to assist with oversight of PCC operations from prison.
Marcola’s rivals include members of the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command (Comando Vermelho) as well as the Third Capital Command (Terceiro Comando da Capital – TCC) crime group created by Geleião and Cesinha after their split with the PCC boss.
Although Marcola has spent the majority of his life behind bars, like many Brazilian crime bosses, he has reportedly continued to develop his criminal career from inside prison, using a network of lawyers and corrupt public officials. While the dismantling of this communications network and loss of some key leaders posed potential disruptions to the PCC’s business, Marcola appears to have maintained firm control working through his long-time associate Fuminho.