One of Ecuador’s highest profile prisoners died Monday in a riot at the Cotopaxi penitentiary in Latatcunga. Deputy Director of Prisons Jorge Flores confirmed the death of convicted drug trafficker Leandro ‘El Patrón’ Norero. In addition to Norero, at least 14 other prisoners were killed in the riot.
On Peru’s “most wanted” list for seven years, Norero was declared dead in 2020 when his lawyers convinced police and prosecutors that he had died, providing a death certificate and photos to prove it. Norero was wanted for drug trafficking and money laundering, suspected of having close ties with two Mexican cartels
After his death was officially recorded in Peru, Norero relocated to Ecuador and continued his criminal activities.
In 2022, the 35-year-old Norero was arrested by National Police when a raid turned up $6 million in cash and gold bars in his house in Guayaquil. His identity was confirmed, as well as the fact that he was alive, and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
According to Flores, Norero’s death was at the center of the riot. “We do not know how events developed, and we are continuing our investigation, but we believe that his [Norero] murder was the primary factor.”
He added that Norero, through his drug sales, was the financier of three criminal gangs in Ecuador: Los Lobos, Los Tiguerones and Los Chone Killers. “These gangs were at war with the Choneros gang and it appears this conflict was the spark for the riot,” Flores said.
Flores refused to comment on claims by National Assemblyman Fernando Villavicencio that Norero was financing several political leaders, including members of the National Assembly. Using cell phone records, Villavicencio said he can prove that payouts to politicians were being delivered on Norero’s orders. On Monday night, Villavicencio turned over his evidence to prosecutors.
Flores said a “disturbance” began about 1:30 p.m. and developed quickly into a full-blown riot. “We sent in National Police very early but the uprising was out of control by that point,” he said. “As of 7 p.m., the situation was under control and the competing parties have been separated.”
At 10 p.m. Monday, prison officials say they had confirmed 15 deaths, including Norero’s, as well as seven serious injuries. “Some of the dead suffered stab wounds while others suffered gunshots,” the prison said in a statement.
According to Flores, investigators were interviewing prison guards to determine how firearms and ammunition were smuggled into the prison. “Three guards were arrested September 20 for attempting to deliver 500 rounds of ammunition to prisoners and we are looking into a connection with the riot.”