Gambling, Don Julio Tequila, and Drugs Keep Colombian Prison Running

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It seems that being incarcerated in Colombia means having a better life than living on the outside. Despite uncovering illegal gambling and wild parties at the La Picotapenitentiary seven months ago, gambling, tequila, and drugs are apparently still part of the daily routine.

An aerial view of Colombia’s La Picota prison. Contraband gambling, liquor, and drugs are still part of prisoners’ routines. (Image: Colombian Penitentiary and Prison Institute)

Media outlet El Colombiano reports that officials from the prison in the capital city of Bogotá were conducting a routine inspection of an inbound van on Thursday when they came across unexpected cargo. The vehicle was trying to enter the compound with what could only be described as everything needed to start a small village.

It had a complete arsenal of liquor, drugs, food, cell phones, radios, toiletries, and even equipment to outfit a barbershop. Officials with the penal system, however, still deny that there’s anything wrong with their oversight of the prison.

Tequila, Drugs, and Gambling

The officials counted seven large drums of brandy and 80 bottles of whiskey. Among the brands were Old Parr, Chivas, Buchanan’s, and others.

There were also six bottles of Don Julio tequila, as well as 174 bottles of brandy and 198 units of different-sized bottles of rum. The liquor ensemble included 150 cans of Heineken, Club Colombia, and Corona beer.

The van also contained illicit drugs, including 1,230 grams of marijuana and 485 grams of cocaine. In addition to this contraband, there were cigarettes, all kinds of nonperishable edible items, fruits and vegetables, and more.

In addition to all the party favors were 10 cell phones (with chargers) and 300 SIM Cards. There were also digital recorders, kitchen utensils, and radios.

The driver of the van told the authorities that he had only been hired to drive and said he had no idea what was inside. That won’t protect him, though, and he now faces prosecution for manufacturing and trafficking narcotics. If investigators determine the items were stolen, he could face additional charges.

In Denial

Through a statement, the Penitentiary and Prison Institute (Inpec, for its Spanish acronym) said the search was part of the prison system’s increased efforts to control the ingress of contraband. Last October, media outlets got wind of a massive week-long party at La Picota that left Inpec with egg on its face.

That party was recorded in the videos taken by prison inmates who participated in the events, which later made their way to social media. It was complete with liquor, cigarettes, recognized music artists (popular Colombian singer Ana del Castillo was there), gambling, and more.

The sounds of the celebration could be heard blasting in the recorded videos and there was no indication that the guards or prison officials ever intervened.

After the party came to light, Inpec took action, firing several high-ranking officials at the prison. Likewise, the Attorney General’s Office of Bogotá announced investigations and is still preparing charges against several of those involved.

Inpec put a PR spin on the new bust, asserting that it was a demonstration of the success of its new procedures. The attempt missed the mark.

It’s possible to sometimes bribe a prison guard into smuggling in a bottle of whiskey or a pack of smokes. However, it’s not possible to smuggle in an entire van full of illegal contraband unless the odds of success are great. That requires intimate cooperation at some as-of-yet unknown level.

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