VCRs, computer, knives found in Mexican prisons


MEXICO CITY -- Female companions, luxurious cells, a computer, cocaine, cellular phones, marijuana plants and nearly a ton of weapons were among the things uncovered by shakedowns at 34 Mexican prisons, the attorney general's office announced yesterday.

Thirty-seven prisoners were charged with a variety of offenses, most of them related to weapons and drugs, said a spokesman for the office.

Attorney General Ignacio Morales Lechuga decided to shake down the country's 447 prisons after 18 prisoners died during a May uprising at the prison in Matamoros on the U.S. border.

Officials were shocked to find that imprisoned members of rival drug gangs had taken over the jail -- armed with assault rifles and pistols.

No firearms were found in shakedowns at other prisons, but authorities turned up other interesting things.

A majority of 100 maximum-security cells at the Social Re-adaption Center in Michoacan state had been converted into luxurious wood-paneled rooms with fine furniture, rugs, refrigerators, VCRs, microwave ovens, televisions, video cameras and alcoholic beverages.

The investigators also found eight women, "only two of whom admitted to being wives of prisoners," said an attorney general's press bulletin.

At a prison in Chihuahua state, authorities found a computer, two computer printers, five cellular phones, a gram of cocaine and three knives. The biggest weapons cachewas nearly a ton of knives seized at two jails in Chiapas state.

It was assumed that the computer was used to conduct a business, possibly drug-related or having to do with the selling of food and other amenities to fellow prisoners.

Eighty-one marijuana plants were found growing in a prison in Jalisco state, along with "various doses of cocaine," the press bulletin said.

The latest discoveries come as no surprise to Mexicans, since low-paid guards are bribed to improve living conditions in an overcrowded penal system that Americas Watch, a U.S. human rights group, has called a scandal.

Mexico City jails were ordered inspected in 1989 after a wealthy drug trafficker claimed that the head of the capital's prison system had tried to extort a $1 million bribe from him.

In return, the drug dealer would keep his "cell," a spacious apartment that resembled a luxury hotel suite, complete with pool table.

Late last month, two Colombian drug dealers escaped from a Mexico City jail with the obvious help of their guards.

But wealthy prisoners need not escape to enjoy the good life.

According to El Financiero, the capital's respected financial daily, prisoners in 1989 could select from among 60 luxurious cells -- complete with food and domestic service -- at the Eastern Penitentiary. The cost? About $700 a week.

One of Mexico City's better steakhouses provided takeout service to the capital's Southern Penitentiary.

And girlfriends were frequently admitted to ease the boredom of a fallen magnate or stock manipulator, the newspaper said.

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