An alleged leader of the Los Choneros criminal gang was back in prison Thursday night just hours after a Guayaquil judge granted his release. Junior Roldán, alias “JR”, was arrested along with 29 others, many of them from opposition gangs who planned to kill him, National Police say.
According to Interior Minister Juan Zapata, police learned that Roldán would be the target of hit after he left Guayaquil Regional prison. “We were aware of the plot and followed him after his release to the point where the attack was planned,” Zapata said. “He was arrested along with his guards and potential attackers for carrying a high-powered firearm. Under the terms of his release, he was not allowed to possess firearms.”
Roldán was unharmed in the operation.
Before his arrest, Judge Jorge Aldás’ order granting Roldán’s release sparked outrage from government officials, including President Guillermo Lasso. Michael Fitzpatrick, U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador, also blasted the release, claiming it confirmed “the widespread influence of narcos and thugs” within the country’s judicial system.
According to Zapata and prison officials, Roldán’s release was based on a “technicality.” Prosecutors from the Attorney General’s office, who were present at the prison hearing in which Aldás issued his order, called it an “inexcusable decision that put public safety at risk.” In a statement they said the decision was based on an “erroneous prison report subjectively interpreted” by the judge. Prosecutors did not provide details about the technicality.
Roldán was serving a 40-year sentence on more than a dozen charges, including the murder a family in Los Rios Provinces. During his time in prison, prosecutors say Roldán ordered “multiple” murders of opposition gang leaders both in and out of the country’s prisons and provided weapons to other inmates.
Roldán is the third gang leader released from prison in the last two weeks. The government claims the judges issuing the releases “may have been under the influence” of bribes and intimidation and said they would be investigated. Zapata said prosecutors are working to return those released back to prison as “soon as possible.”