Colombian Authorities Bust Underground Lottery Operation, Make 12 Arrests

Posted on: April 6, 2022, 10:07h. 

Last updated on: April 6, 2022, 12:01h.

Police in Colombia broke up a sizable operation dealing in fraudulent lotteries and raffles this week. The activity extended across several regions in the country, with police making several arrests.

Illegal lottery tickets
Tickets for an illegal lottery in Colombia. The activity is an ongoing problem law enforcement is trying to tackle. (Image: Noticiero Universal)

The Colombian operation was dedicated to fabricating, distributing, and selling fake lottery and raffle tickets. This week, law enforcement shut it down, making several arrests and seizing houses and other assets following an 18-month investigation. The size of the operation was substantial enough that the investigation will likely continue to uncover more surprises.

So far, police have implicated a dozen individuals for their participation, including one of the ringleaders. They also seized assets that, according to investigations, were part of the irregular sale of raffles in four subregions of Antioquia.

One of the police arrested was a man identified only as Mauricio. He is a 47-year-old lithographer in charge of printing and distributing “checkbooks” of lottery tickets. The printing took place in Medellín, and the group then distributed them throughout the Aburrá Valley and to the municipalities of San Jerónimo, Caucasia, Andes, and Betania.

Illegal Lottery Meets its Demise

The commander of the Antioquia Police, Colonel Daniel Mazo Cardona, told local media that law enforcement presented search warrants to 13 properties, arresting 12 individuals. Police also seized 36 assets, including real estate, in conjunction with the searches, reportedly with a total value of around COP17 billion (US$4.52 million). In addition, police confiscated COP$167 million (US$44,605) in cash.

According to the colonel, in Medellín, the group distributed the checkbooks in the city’s center while it concentrated on the urban areas in the other municipalities. This generated revenue losses of millions of pesos for Antioquia and its municipalities.

Revenue from the sale of legitimate lotteries and raffles goes to the health system. However, the group instead used its ill-gotten funds to splurge on luxury goods, including high-end properties in Las Palmas in Medellín, the capital of Antioquia. “They used this money to enrich themselves and acquire valuable properties,” Mazo added.

In Antioquia, the lottery and raffle tickets are produced digitally to avoid the falsification of the checkbooks. This also helps guarantee the legality of the raffles. The Medellín Lottery oversees the legal lottery operations. Last year, through gambling, it allocated COP$136 billion (US$36.24 million) to the health sector.

Not the First Illegal Lottery Op to Fall

This was a significant blow to illegal lottery operations in Colombia, but it was only the latest.

On September 2, 2020, police captured what law enforcement dubbed at the time the “illegal lottery czar” in Bogotá. That police action also led to the arrest of an additional 12 individuals. They allegedly defrauded thousands of victims and Colombia’s health system with false lottery tickets.

In that operation, the Domain Extinction and Money Laundering Unit of the Prosecutor’s Office conducted an initiative to identify, locate, and seize the properties in the name of this czar in Bogotá. It also led to the discovery of the names of the front men who lent their names to the purchase of the properties allegedly acquired through the illegal activity.

That group reportedly earned anywhere from COP180 million to COP680 million (US$47,970 to $181,220) every day for two years.

In October of last year, police arrested another 12 for their illegal lottery operations. The accused faced prison sentences of between six and eight years in all cases.