The Perils of Selling Sunshine and Scams in Zapopan

Unravel the dark tale of Zapopan's vanished call center workers entangled in a timeshare scam controlled by the CJNG cartel. Discover a labyrinthine underworld that extends beyond drugs to everyday businesses.

The Perils of Selling Sunshine and Scams in Zapopan
The grim ravine in Zapopan, where investigators made the chilling discovery of human remains is a sinister reminder of the criminal underworld's brutality. Credit: Fiscalía del Estado de Jalisco

In a sun-soaked corner of Zapopan, Jalisco, a story darker than a mezcal hangover has emerged. It's not your run-of-the-mill cartel tale, nope. This one is as twisted as a barbed wire margarita. A gang of eight call center workers disappeared, unraveling a scam so elaborate it would make a telenovela writer blush.

The stage? Call centers spread across Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Nayarit, Tijuana, and Cancun, with operators meticulously collecting debts from unsuspecting foreigners and peddling hotel timeshares. Think of them as the dark underbelly of the timeshare business, a perversion of the classic vacation escape. In reality, it was a deep, pulsating vein of the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG), a gangster club notorious for their audacious criminal exploits.

Now, remember this—everyone loves a good scam... until they're the ones being scammed. The phone operators, much like the proverbial mice that got too greedy for cheese, may have become victims of the CJNG's retribution following a sanction issued by the U.S. Treasury Department. Cartels and karma, who'd have thought?

The implication here? Internal information leakage. The CJNG suspected that their timeshare scam was unveiled due to a rat in the ranks. A whistleblower in the call center, perhaps? The investigation is still unfurling, but it's an angle that can't be ignored.

These timeshare scam artists, according to the U.S. bigwigs, had a particular fondness for elderly U.S. citizens. A little like choosing the slowest gazelle in the herd. Easy pickings, right? This led the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the U.S. agency playing the role of economic sanctions sheriff, to issue a warning back in April about the web of companies involved in the fraud.

In layman's terms, OFAC pretty much said, "Hey, these guys, whether directly or indirectly, are linked to the CJNG's timeshare fraud." A chilling reminder that even paradise can hide vipers in its grass. Victims of the scam were stripped of their life savings— a devastating blow to the victims and a lucrative source of revenue for the CJNG's criminal smorgasbord.

The plot thickened on the morning of May 22. Arturo Robles, a 30-year-old call center worker, vanished into thin air after sending a message to his family. Much like the final dot of an ellipsis, siblings Itzel Abigail (27) and Carlos David (23) Valladolid Hernandez disappeared the same morning. Not long before, Carlos Benjamín García Cuevas, 31, had also gone MIA. In the days that followed, Mayra Karina Velázquez, Sandra Analí Ramírez, and Juan Antonio were added to the haunting roll-call of the vanished.

The disappearances led the authorities to two seemingly inconspicuous properties. Blood stains were discovered at the first call center, at 158 Victor Hugo Street. A grisly finding suggested a violent encounter had occurred. The authorities suspected this place served as the nerve center for debt collection and timeshare sales operations.

The second call center, situated at 260 Johannes Brahms, was revealed thanks to the sixth missing woman. Amidst the searches, the Jalisco Prosecutor's Office discovered names of foreigners, instructions for approaching them, hard disks, USB sticks, a bag of marijuana, and a handful of IDs and departmental cards.

Just last Wednesday, the investigation took a ghastly turn. Personnel from the Jalisco Prosecutor's Office unearthed 45 bags of human remains in a Zapopan ravine. The chilling discovery, a grisly confirmation of the worst fears. The remains were found to coincide with the physical characteristics of some of the missing call center workers.

"In a preliminary cross-check of information they coincided with the physical characteristics of some of the young people who are being sought, which was made known to the relatives and we will be waiting for the Jalisco Institute of Forensic Sciences to issue the corresponding reports to confirm the identity of the bodies," the agency shared in a statement last Thursday.

These segmented bodies, some scattered across the ravine, paint a haunting image of the grim fate that may have befallen the missing call center workers. The Prosecutor's Office, armed with the aerial squadron of the Guadalajara Police Station, is basing their reports on their initial explorations of the area.

The story of Zapopan’s vanishing call center workers, entangled with a timeshare scam and the notorious CJNG, is a labyrinthine saga that continues to unravel. This isn't your typical cartel case of drug trafficking; it's a chilling reminder that the reach of these criminal enterprises extends beyond narcotics and into the shadowy corners of everyday business activities, such as call centers and timeshare sales.

The link between the phone operators' disappearance and the CJNG isn't a mere coincidence, it's the grim nexus of a criminal underbelly that paints a daunting picture of the cartel's influence and the life-threatening stakes of their business endeavors. The freedom of these young workers may have been the price paid for the unraveling of a grand scam — a sobering testament to the ruthlessness of these criminal organizations.

Yet, the investigation is far from over. The Mexican authorities are steadfastly pushing through the tangle of evidence, tracing the breadcrumbs left behind at these call centers. With blood stains and lists of potential victims serving as chilling remnants of the grim operations, the authorities are tasked with a monumental challenge to uncover the truth behind these disappearances and bring those responsible to justice.

As this saga continues to unfold, the poignant question looms: How many more 'Arturos' and 'Itzels' are entangled in the expansive web of the CJNG's criminal exploits? And more critically, how will the Mexican authorities navigate this labyrinth to finally confront and dismantle such an insidious operation?

Source: Fiscalia Jalisco