The Crimes of Wallace Souza

A few weeks ago, we did an episode about Pedro Rodrigues Filho, a small time criminal from the southeastern part of Brazil who began to kill in his teens and later became the most prolific serial killer in Brazil. He was a self described vigilante who only stole from and murdered drug dealers and those he considered "bad men.” But it was really something he would just say for his own selfish reasons, for he had no moral conscience. If they had distributed DC or Marvel comics in Brazilian jails, he would have said that he saw himself as Batman or even as the Punisher because of his obsession with revenge.

In this episode, we are going to talk about Wallace Souza, someone who would’ve totally called himself a Harvey Dent when all along he was really Two Face from the beginning. He was a local politician in the state of Amazonas, located in the Northeastern part of Brazil, deep in the middle of the Amazon jungle. He considered himself the voice of the people who were frustrated over increased drug trafficking and rampant violence in the streets. He vowed to lock up the criminals in order to keep the good people of the Amazonas safe. He used his true crime reporting on his daytime TV crime show Canal Libre to show over a million people the incompetence of law enforcement and the crooked politicians who only had their own interests in mind.

I read in El Pais that he and his son Raphael would put on bulletproof vests and participate in house raids armed with pistols. They would film the arrests of petty criminals, and, in at least one occasion, they beat up a suspect, pulling his hair and calling him a bastard before he went to trial. And even then, they were seen as the defenders of justice or the heroes of a comic book.

That was, until Wallace was charged with running a criminal organization. He had allegedly ordered the murders of at least five people, weapons possession, and drug trafficking. The authorities had been investigating him for months prior to his arrest when they noticed that Wallace’s TV show, Canal Libre, suspiciously reported very detailed account of the murders, even as far as getting to the scene of the crime before the police arrived.

His team of reporters would get there so fast that in one instance there would still be smoke coming out of a dead burnt body that the reporter described as “smelling like barbecue”. His reasoning was that he had a 24-hour TV crew waiting until word came in from the morgue. When a body is discovered, they alert the morgue first, and according to Wallace, that is how he got his information. The TV crew would then drive ahead of the ambulances and get there before anyone. He would also position crews in the police station as well.

Wallace denied all charges against him, claiming he had been framed by drug traffickers. He said,”There is a plot against me. Possibly by the organized crime itself, which has great power and is trying to destroy me politically. Unfortunately, through part of the media they are managing to do so. Portraying me as a person linked to crime, when in reality I have spent my entire life fighting against it.”

We have seen many people of power using this kind of rhetoric to further their own agenda by hypocritical statements like these. The way powerful people achieve and then abuse that power has been seen in every society, every culture throughout all of humanity. Brazil has had a huge wave of corruption and abuse of power especially in the last few years with Operation Car Wash, which is one of the biggest corruption scandals that involved many politicians and businesses, including two former presidents. One of them, President Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in 2016 but for a different reason that we’ll get to one day. There’s also the current news of the Brazilian president elect, Jair Bolsonaro, the unapologetic fascist who has been called “Tropical Trump.” I totally recommend reading more on what’s been going on in Brazil. It is fascinating and infuriating. It is our opinion that the good people of Brazil have a lot going against them right now but we are hopeful that they can prevail and thrive one day in the future.

But let’s go back to Wallace Souza.

Wallace Souza was only twenty one years old when he started his career as a police officer in 1979. He then resigned in 1987, self-reported as due to being wrongly accused of a scam involving college exams that he was investigating. But that wasn’t true; he was actually fired when he was caught stealing fuel from police trucks and extorting the criminals that he caught.

He ran for and won state deputy in 1998 in the state of Amazonas and was re-elected two more times in 2002 and 2006, his third term winning a record number of votes.

His increasing popularity was probably due to his popular crime TV show, Canal Libre, that started in 1989. Wallace, along with his two brothers Carlos and Fausto, broadcasted police cases on assassinations, assaults, and kidnappings. The show was very popular and a great forum for the brothers, who had all gone into politics. Carlos was elected deputy mayor in Manaus (the capital city of Amazonas) and Fausto, who was usually the reporter on the scene, as municipal councilor of Amazonas.

Wallace would use the TV show as a platform for him to speak to the Amazonian people. He would give fiery speeches about the incompetence of the police force and the greedy politicians who neglected the people of Amazonia. He would say, “We have to put an end to the scourge of crime and to the politicians who do not fight it.” He promised to be tough on criminals by stating, “The only good delinquent is a dead delinquent.”

Canal Libre continued to earn high ratings thanks to his exclusive crime reports – although it is worth mentioning they had a very popular comedy segment on the show between a puppet and a very angry meat pie seller, Gil and Galerito. You should look it up on Youtube if you haven’t already. It is kinda funny at first, but it gets old real fast and I’m pretty sure they are shouting homophobic slurs, which is not cool.

At this point things were looking up for Wallace Souza, who was powerful, wealthy, highly respected and admired. He was married with four kids. One of them, Raphael worked for his father as a producer on Canal Libre. But what happened next was inevitable.

On October 20th, 2008, Moacir Jorge da Costa, aka Moa, a former federal police officer and bodyguard of Wallace’s, was arrested in connection to nine murders. In his home they found weapons, ammunition and drugs. He claimed that the drugs were planted there by police but changed his story and decided to confess. He told them how Wallace, along with his son Raphael, were responsible for ordering the murders, one of them being a direct order from Wallace to Moa. After the murder took place, Canal Libre’s crew immediately went to film the murder scene all by Wallace’s orders.

Moa was also a witness to a meeting with Wallace and Raphael where they plotted to kill Federal Judge Jaiza Maria Fraxe in 2007. In the meeting, Raphael said that he wanted to just “scare her,” but Wallace disagreed and said “we must do it right.” The assassination didn’t happen because the killer, Luiz Pulga, who was contracted to murder her, refused. Luiz himself was murdered the next year over fears that he would implicate the Souzas. Raphael went to trial for Luiz’s murder in 2013.

According to Moa, Wallace and Raphael put a hit on her because she was involved in ex-military Colonel Felipe Arce’s criminal case, who was one of Wallace’s top men. Felipe had been charged – among many other things – with killing a police officer for twelve thousand reais paid by Ezequiel, a well known drug trafficker at the time, because the murdered police officer knew about the ties between him and the military.

Timeline for Felipe Arce:

  • 2004: Carried out murder of police officer Santos in 2004.

  • 2005: Arrested for involvement in extermination group (murder) in Operation Centurion.

  • 2007: Wallace pleads leniency for his friend Felipe.

  • 2009: Arrested along with Wallace.

  • 2010: Sentenced to two years for conspiracy to commit murder of a federal judge and falsifying social security documents in 2010.

  • 2013: Hired by the Western Regional Policing Command. Fired the next day.

  • 2017: Convicted and sentenced to 33 and a half years for carrying out four murders in 2004.

    Moa’s confession was enough for the police to search Wallace’s mansion he shared with his wife and son, which severely angered Wallace. You could have almost heard the foot stomping when he said, “This does not end here. Remember that you offended the future Ministry of Security!”

The police found 250,000 reales, which is almost 65,000 US dollars. They also found 84 rounds of high-caliber ammunition, used only in the military, and a paper with a list of restricted weapons and recently murdered traffickers. Raphael took responsibility for the money and ammunition and was arrested and charged with weapons possession and ordering the murders.

Wallace tried to justify the money by saying that it was all drawn from his own account. That he needed to save his money for treatment because he had several medical conditions. He was not completely lying about that; he did have Budd-Chiari Syndrome, which is a rare condition. But come on.

Even with all the evidence found in his home, Wallace was not arrested because of “foro privilegiado,” which is an immunity law for politicians and other officials like Wallace. That means Wallace couldn’t be arrested and tried in the lower courts, only in the Brazilian Supreme Court which could take years. About a third of politician’s cases like Wallace’s get dismissed because of a statute of limitations.

But it wasn’t long until they connected Wallace to the murders and drug trafficking with several witnesses and phone calls. He faced the ethics committee and was voted out of parliament by the legislative assembly with sixteen votes in favor, six against and three abstaining. Now that he lost his immunity status, prosecutors were free to charge him with his crimes.

The following Monday after the vote, a warrant was issued for his arrest, but he wasn’t home. He was declared a fugitive. Roadblocks were set up and the airports were monitored. Wallace turned himself in after four days and remained in custody until the next year, July 27th, 2010, when Wallace Souza died of a heart attack due to his liver disease. He never went to trial and always maintained his innocence.

Raphael was sentenced to eleven years in prison. Moa was sentenced to 12 years in prison for murder in 2007 and died in a prison riot in February of 2017.

As far as the immunity law granted to politicians and other officials, the Supreme Court voted to change the law earlier this year. Wallace would’ve been easily arrested for murder drug trafficking, since it was not directly involving his public function.

I’ve compared Wallace to Harvey Dent, Two Face and now I’m seeing some Nightcrawler in him (the movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal where he films violent crimes and sells them to journalists and inevitably getting entangled in the crimes themselves).

Wallace, with his police force experience, made his way from radio to TV as a true crime reporter. Wallace and his brothers, nicknamed the Courage Brothers, portrayed themselves as defenders of honest reporting with passionate discourse on violent crime in Brazil. He also lead a double life of drug trafficking and used his political power to make money and gain more power.

It was a simple plan: he has his criminal rivals murdered, gets the exclusive report on the murders, ratings go up, then he turns to the camera and speaks about the increasing violent crime in Amazonas, he vows to listen and protect the people, he gets voted back into office – and repeat.