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Eight people found dead in bags in ravine ‘worked at cartel’s scam call centre’

3 min read

Human remains found in black bags at the bottom of a Mexican ravine have been confirmed as the bodies of eight young workers who apparently tried to quit jobs at a call centre operated by a violent drug cartel. On Monday, US and Mexican officials confirmed the deaths after the workers were reported missing late last month by their respective families when they did not return from work in an office near the western city of Guadalajara. Suspicions rose last week when heaps of hacked-up body parts were found in plastic bags. 

Forensic examiners in the western state of Jalisco said in a statement on Monday that tests had confirmed the bodies belonged to the missing call centre workers.

A total of six men and two women were reported missing between May 20 and May 22, but the forensic examiners did not mention the number of confirmed identities. There had been doubts about whether one of the youths was among the bodies found.

Dismembered body parts stashed in dozens of black bags were found at the bottom of a deep ravine in Zapopan, Jalisco state, on May 31.

The state government confirmed on Tuesday “that [the remains] are those of the young people who had been reported missing”.

While the families believed their children worked at a normal call centre, the office was in fact run by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, Mexico’s most violent gang. 

The cartel has branched out beyond its traditional business of drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping.

Officials confirmed the cartel now operates call centres that scam money from Americans and Canadians through fake offers to buy their timeshares.

Jalisco officials did not offer a motive in the killings of the workers, all but two of whom were under 30. 

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But a US official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly on the issue said it appeared the youths were killed by the Jalisco cartel after they tried to quit their jobs.

“Best guess is these kids had decided they wanted out of the business,” the US official said, adding the cartel was “sending a message to other defectors”.

“It appears this has happened before,” the official added.

For those who have worked for the cartel, knowingly or unknowingly, it appears to be an unwritten rule that the only way out of the gang is death or prison.

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One of the missing workers was Carlos García, 31, who was last seen on May 20.

Siblings Itzel Abigail, 27, and Carlos Valladolid, 23, were reported missing on May 23.

The mother of Arturo Robles, 30, said he had phoned her on May 22 telling her “I’ve arrived at work, I’m going to have breakfast and then I’ll start working”. After that, the family did not hear from him again.

The prosecutor’s office said it was checking CCTV footage after locals said they had seen the employees being abducted by armed men. The mayor of Zapopan said the business operated illegally and “did not have any licences”.

An activist group for families of the disappeared, “Por Amor a Ellxs” — roughly, “For Love of Them” — said there are around 15,000 missing people in Jalisco, out of a total of about 112,000 nationwide.

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