Uruguay’s underworld rendezvous: How El Mencho’s brother-in-law met Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia

Discover the secretive encounters between cartel leader Lalo and Italian mafia boss Rocco Morabito inside Uruguay's Central Prison and their impact on Latin America's crime scene.
  1. Uruguay apprehended two major drug traffickers, Gerardo Gonzalez Valencia (Los Cuinis cartel) and Rocco Morabito (‘Ndrangheta mafia), between 2016 and 2017.
  2. Both criminals had secret meetings inside Uruguay’s Central Prison during Valencia’s conjugal visits, raising questions about the prison authorities’ oversight.
  3. Valencia was extradited to the US in 2020, while Morabito was re-incarcerated in Brazil in 2021 and extradited to Italy in 2022 to face a 30-year sentence.

Between 2016 and 2017 in Uruguay, two of the most wanted drug traffickers in different countries were apprehended. The first was Gerardo Gonzalez Valencia, alias “Lalo,” who had been identified as one of the ringleaders of Los Cuinis, the financial arm of the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG), which the US Department of Justice considers to be one of the largest, most dangerous and prolific drug cartels in Mexico.

Although after the arrest of the drug lord, the US government initiated collaboration efforts with the Uruguayan government to request the extradition of Gerardo González Valencia, in the South American country “Lalo” was convicted of money laundering and deprived of his liberty – in the first instance – in the “Santiago Vázquez” Prison Complex, popularly known as COMCAR, according to local press reports.

Two years later, for security reasons, the National Rehabilitation Institute (INR) in Uruguay transferred the member of Los Cuinis to a Republican Guard headquarters where, in addition to serving his sentence, he was held pending extradition to the United States.

El cuñado de Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias "El Mencho", fue detenido por autoridades uruguayas en abril de 2016 luego de haber intentado establecerse en el país sudamericano junto a su familia (Embajada de EEUU en Uruguay)
The brother-in-law of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” was detained by Uruguayan authorities in April 2016 after attempting to settle in the South American country with his family (US Embassy in Uruguay).

According to the Uruguayan media outlet La Diaria Justicia, in October 2016, Judge Beatriz Larrieu authorized the brother-in-law of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” to have conjugal visits. However, as the Republican Guard headquarters where he was being held did not have the conditions for such meetings, Gerardo Gonzalez Valencia was constantly transferred to the South American country’s Central Prison.

While the member of Los Cuinis was trying to avoid extradition to the United States and seeking to regain his freedom, Uruguayan authorities succeeded in September 2017 in arresting another major drug trafficker: Rocco Morabito.

Also known as the “king of cocaine,” the Italian capo was part of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, from which he coordinated the flourishing drug trade in Milan and Calabria and extended his business to different Latin American countries.

Rocco Morabito, jefe de la 'Ndrangheta calabresa fue detenido en Montevideo. A la derecha, imagen al momento de su captura. (Arma dei Carabinieri)
Rocco Morabito, head of the Calabrian N’drangheta was arrested in Montevideo. On the right image at his capture (Arma dei Carabinieri).

Uruguayan authorities accused Rocco Morabito of committing the crime of document forgery, for which he was imprisoned in Libertad prison. However, after serving his sentence, the Italian capo was transferred as an administrative prisoner to the Cárcel Central. In this penitentiary, Gerardo González Valencia used to go for his conjugal visits.

The Italian mafioso escaped from the said penitentiary center in 2019 with three other inmates through the roofs of one of the buildings, unleashing a series of investigations headed by the 2nd shift Prosecutor’s Office for Economic and Complex Crimes, which prosecutor Ricardo Lackner headed.

Such inquiries conducted by Uruguayan authorities revealed not only that Rocco Morabito’s escape had been warned in a police report dated June 2018 but also that the leader of the Calabrian mafia held meetings with Gerardo González Valencia, brother-in-law of “El Mencho” and member of Los Cuinis.

Might be interesting:

The relationship between Gonzalez Valencia and Rocco Morabito

Los encuentros entre  el integrante de Los Cuinis y el líder de la mafia italiana N'drangheta se dieron al interior de la Cárcel Central de Montevideo, Uruguay (Especial)
The meetings between the member of Los Cuinis and the leader of the Italian mafia, N’drangheta, took place inside the Central Prison of Montevideo, Uruguay (Special)

The investigations carried out by the 2nd shift Prosecutor’s Office for Economic and Complex Crimes reported that Gerardo González Valencia’s conjugal visits in the Central Prison took place one floor above Rocco Morabito was held.

Despite this, in 2020, the then Uruguayan Minister of the Interior, Jorge Larrañaga, declared to El País that there were irregularities of all kinds and very strong responsibilities in the escape of the Italian mafioso as well as in the transfers of the member of Los Cuinis to the Central Prison.

Of the 13 transfers that Gerardo González Valencia had to have conjugal visits, eight were verified, of which only three coincided in time and space with Rocco Morabito’s imprisonment.

Despite this, sources consulted by El País assured that the brother-in-law of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes and the leader of the Italian mafia had lunch together in the Central Prison, which led to speculation about the alleged responsibility that Gerardo González Valencia may have had in the escape that shocked Latin America in 2019.

Audio obtained by the Uruguayan media El Observador showed that Alfredo Cavijo – former director of the Republican Guard – said he was unaware that the Mexican drug trafficker was with Rocco Morabito and attributed this responsibility to the National Rehabilitation Institute (INR).

Likewise, the media mentioned above reported that in one of the hearings of the case, when being interrogated by prosecutor Ricardo Lackner, Alfredo Clavijo said that Gerardo González Valencia did not have any time restrictions on his conjugal visits, as well as that he was unaware that the member of Los Cuinis had benefits inside his cell.

“You had to make sure that (conjugal visits) were not an excuse. As far as we know, they were an excuse, and you ended up having coffee with Morabito,” said prosecutor Ricardo Lackner.

Although these meetings between Rocco Morabito and Gerardo Gonzalez Valencia put Uruguay’s prison authorities on the spot, the Cuinis member was extradited to the United States in 2020 and is awaiting sentencing by a judge. For his part, the leader of ‘Ndrangheta was re-incarcerated in May 2021 in Brazil and extradited to Italy in July 2022, where he will face a 30-year prison sentence.