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Meet the Contract Killer who Now Represents George Santos in Brazil

Jonymar Vasconcelos, 47, lawyer for Rep George Santos in Brazil
Jonymar Vasconcelos, 47, lawyer for Rep George Santos in Brazil
February 2, 2023 10:07 p.m.
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I’m not sure the George Santos stories keep getting worse. But they do get weirder, more bizarre.

As we learned way back at the beginning of the Santos saga, he remains a wanted man in Brazil for check fraud he committed back in 2008. After he became an international celebrity in December, Brazilian authorities decided to reinitiate the case which had stalled when they couldn’t locate him. After the case was reopened, Santos hired a Brazilian lawyer to represent him in the revived case. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, since it’s George Santos, that he managed to find a lawyer who’s a convicted murderer. In fact, he’s a convicted contract killer.

This account is based on an article published yesterday in the Brazilian daily Folha and some limited additional reporting of my own.

In 2004 Jonymar Vasconcelos, then a low-ranking sailor in the Brazilian navy, was part of what the Folha termed a “death squad” behind a mob execution. This was more organized crime than anything backed by the state per se, involving criminal gangs run by rogue elements in the military police. Vasconcelos was sentenced to 18 years in prison but ended up serving only five. He was released to house arrest and supervised release in 2009. Two years later the judge who sentenced him, Patrícia Acioli, was herself murdered.

The 2004 murder was, needless to say, an ugly affair. As described by Folha, it was a standard gangland killing. An auto mechanic got on the wrong side of the organized crime syndicate that ran what amounted to an alternative transport system in Rio de Janeiro. Four guys drive up to his house on two motorcycles. They shoot him in front of his family. Vasconcelos himself stayed with the motorcycles waiting for the killing to be done. Then they all drove off.

It wasn’t Vasconcelos’ first or only rodeo. He was either investigated for or arrested in connection with a number of other violent crimes including at least one other contract killing.

The judge in the case, Acioli, was known as the “people’s judge” for standing up to just these sorts of criminal gangs. It was one of these groups who murdered her two years after Vasconcelos’ release from prison in 2009. She was shot 21 times in an ambush outside her home for which eleven members of the military police were eventually convicted.

In other words, the same kind of underworld criminal gangs run by rogue elements in the military police were behind both Vasconcelos’ contract killing and the subsequent death of the judge who sentenced him. There were even reports that Vasconcelos threatened Acioli’s life while he was standing trial in her court.

Given this background, how is it that Vasconcelos was able to get released from prison after five years behind bars — and just two years after his conviction — when he was sentenced to 18 years?

The timeline goes like this: Vasconcelos was arrested shortly after the murder in December 2004 and incarcerated while awaiting trial. He was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to 18 years in prison but was then released into a halfway house and supervised release in 2009. He was then able to enroll in law school during his supervised release. I spoke to a knowledgable observer of the Brazilian legal system who told me it was very hard to explain Vasconcelos’ quick release from custody and entry into law school without some corrupt machinations in the background.

The most interesting part of the story is how Santos managed to end up with this lawyer. There’s no clear or good explanation. The Folha reporter couldn’t find any record of Vasconcelos being connected with any law firm or listed anywhere as a lawyer. He’s not findable. So how did Santos find him? Santos has been busy for the last month and he hasn’t been able to travel to Brazil to retain counsel. So, again, how did he manage to come up with Vasconcelos? According to Vasoncelos, it was because of his outstanding trial record and a personal recommendation.

Small world.

When Santos was asked for comment about Vasconcelos and how he came to retain him, Santos first said he didn’t speak Portuguese and then never replied when the questions were restated in English.

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