The second part of this two part series from our Brazil partner Publica looks at some of the drug trafficking accusations facing Daniel Fernandes Rojo Filho and Pedro Benevides and how they have established an air of legitimacy through an entity which issues awards to high officials.
On September 16, 2008, United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Agent Keith Humphreys arrested Pedro Benevides in Orlando, Florida. The Portuguese national was accused of conspiring to illegally obtain, import to the US and distribute five or more kilos of cocaine, as well as money laundering, according to court proceedings from the Northern District Court of Florida.
According to the prosecution’s documents, Benevides gave $100,000 to two pilots from Sky View Aviation, Marvin Jackson and Kenneth Henderson, to buy ten kilos of cocaine in the Dominican Republic and bring it to the US to sell.
Days after being arrested, Benevides denied involvement with illegal drugs and said he was "concerned" because his partner, Rojo Filho, then vice president of Sky View Aviation, had moved $102 million through their bank accounts without him knowing the origin of the money. At least that's what Agent Humphreys testified before the judge in central Florida on September 23, 2009.
The DEA, which had investigated the case, found that, before being arrested, Benevides wanted to escape to Brazil in order to avoid prosecution for drug trafficking. According to documents, his wife, Brittany Benevides, traveled to Sao Paulo, where Rojo Filho has friends, to purchase vacation homes through Sotheby's International Realty. Court documents state she went to visit, along with a real estate agent, some properties in Ubatuba, a city 150 kilometers east of Sao Paulo. Benevides never made it to Brazil.
Benevides spent a year in a US prison, but his case was later dismissed as a result of inconsistencies among the witnesses. The Arizona criminal investigation remains ongoing, although Rojo Filho, the partner in question, remains free and faces no charges. Rojo Filho now serves as president of a company called Platinum Bancorp, which supposedly operates in New Zealand but has business at least as far away as Mexico. It is through this company, for example, that pension funds from the state government of San Luis Potosi in Mexico were suspiciously transferred.
In late November last year, Peru’s anti-narcotics agency (DIRANDRO) revealed that a branch of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel operating in Bolivia was sending shipments of Peruvian cocaine to Europe via Brazil. The latest revelation to appear in this report shows that the Sinaloa Cartel also has a Brazilian "chancellor" operating in that country.
The Commendations Factory
The title of Brazilian "chancellor," as Rojo Filho is known in the United States, was conferred on him in 2010 by "Commander Regino Barros," President of the Center for Sao Paulo Cultural Integration and Business. Given the hundreds of commendations, medals and titles that it distributes among politicians, artists, businessmen, judges, prosecutors, pastors, colonels and the like, the center seems as if it is an entity of limitless generosity.
In fact, it would appear that the only function of this center, created by "entrepreneur" Regino Barros, is to distribute these prizes. Nobody seems to care that he does not have any clear business interests except to promote events, which are widely publicized in celebrity and lifestyle magazine Caras. There seem to be few limits. In 2009, for example, the center rented the United Nations' facilities in New York to deliver the "Guardian of Democracy and Brazil-US Integration - Sovereign Order of Fraternal Brazil - USA Integration" awards from the "International Council of Honors and Merits from the Center of Sao Paulo Cultural Integration and Enterprise" (CICESP). Among the recipients: the pop group KLB and actress Juliana Paes.
The awards are mainly for celebrities and are granted by the Entrepreneurs' Sovereign Order JK (named after former Brazilian President Juscelino Kubistcheck), according to the CICESP website. There are two types -- the JK Entrepreneurial Cross of Merit and the JK Jewel -- with medals accompanied by the titles "Commander" or "Chancellor," such as that received by Rojo Filho in Orlando. In this case, the "chancery" may be referring to a state, a country like the United States (Rojo Filho is "US Chancellor" of Brazil), or even the likes of the "Honorary Chancery for the State of Rio de Janeiro Merit of Arts and Culture," received by actor Jose Wilker in April 2010.
Commanders displayed in the gallery of the site range from obscure to renowned personalities such as former Superior Tribunal of Justice Minister Eliana Calmon and plastic surgeon Ivo Pitanguy. Judges and legislators -- such as former Senator Mao Santa, Senator Flexa Ribeiro, and Senator Eduardo Suplicy -- have also been among the winners.
On November 8, 2013, the judge of the Federal District and Territories Court of Justice received the title of Commander from the JK Merit Cross of the Entrepreneur in a solemn session of the Chamber of Deputies. Regino Barros organized the event at the request of Deputy Waldir Maranhao, who requested the session and acted as chairman of the board during the event.
On the internet you can find two more similar events performed in a solemn session in the Senate’s Petronio Portela Auditorium and in the Grand Hall of Congress -- the latter for the delivery of a Brazil Top Quality Award, given annually to 100 entrepreneurs, including law firms.
This is perhaps the secret shared by Regino Barros and his protege Rojo Filho, accused by the DEA of being part of the Sinaloa cartel: in the proper setting and with known honorees, even the most obscure figures can earn an aura of legitimacy. This extends to the international stage. Otherwise how else would anyone know of a Brazilian businessman living in Florida? His page promotes him as if he holds some sort of public office, taking advantage of the unfamiliarity of Americans with Brazilian political and social organizations. On Rojo’s site there are notices of the activities of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian Tourism Ministry and preparations for the World Cup -- as well as a link to the CICESP website.
Regino has also approached foreign authorities in Brazil. The Chinese ambassador, Li Jinzhang, and the Ambassador of Panama, Gabriela Garcia, were also decorated by the JK Sovereign Order of Merit.
With an address on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Regino was able to impose and legitimize the honors at the financial expense of the honorees themselves. To earn a nomination, the awardees, as highlighted by the Folha de Sao Paulo in April 2010, could join the CICESP. In 2010, it cost $2,549.
In 2002 -- the centenary of Juscelino Kubistcheck -- Regino received an invitation to a ceremony commemorating the date in the gardens of the presidential palace. While there, he took the opportunity to have a photo taken with former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. He has since used the photo to promote the idea that FHC was first to be awarded the JK Cross of Merit. The Fernando Henrique Institute, however, does not include it in the long list of commendations, medals, honors and awards listed in the official curriculum of the former president.
Meanwhile, Rojo Filho continues to promote himself as the "Chancellor," ready to help those who want to invest in the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics and in many business sectors in Brazil, such as air transport and oil. The registered address of the Chancellor (1420 Celebration Blvd, Suite 200, Celebration, Florida, 34747) is an office building where no one answers the phone.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry says the Brazilian agency of Foreign Affairs has never received complaints about the false officialdom of Rojo Filho, but plans to scrutinize it after the publication of this piece.
Regardless, the resourcefulness of Rojo to pose as US Chancellor seems to match the current strategy of the Sinaloa Cartel, according to a study by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a "think tank" that supports the US Pentagon and the White House. A report on the Sinaloa Cartel, commissioned by the US Defense Department, notes that the Sinaloa Cartel "chose to buy their influence. Although they are capable of great violence, their preferred modus operandi is bribery. The transnational criminal organization has successfully corrupted the Mexican government, security forces, and private industry in all locations where it operates."