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The Scammer Who Wanted to Save His Country

Others who would receive a visit from police that morning were far less prepared.

In São Paulo, Delgatti’s old friend Gustavo Santos was pinged awake by a cell phone alert. Santos, who now lived with his girlfriend in Brazil’s largest city, had installed a network of cameras and sensors at the empty home he still maintained in Araraquara. The devices sent alerts to his phone when they were tripped. Sometimes the sensors were triggered by cats or bugs; this time they were being triggered by an early morning police raid, but Santos was oblivious. “I was really doped up from sleeping medicine,” he says. So he went back to sleep.

At around 8 am the buzzing of his apartment’s intercom woke Santos again. He dragged himself up and answered. “Gustavo,” the intercom barked, “there is a Sedex here for you. You have to sign for it.”

Santos didn’t recognize the doorman’s voice. “Man, you can sign for me,” Santos said into the intercom, refusing to come down. But as he hung up, Santos thought: “Fuck, this does not smell good.”

Santos went to the window, parting the curtains a crack. He glimpsed several figures dressed in black approaching his apartment building. Now fully awake, he frantically started cleaning up his apartment—ripping up documents and flushing any potentially compromising material down the toilet. (Santos dealt extensively in cryptocurrency trades and other schemes.) Then, remembering the nearly 100,000 Brazilian reais in cash he had in the apartment—about $25,000—Santos went to the bedroom where his longtime girlfriend, Suelen Oliveira, was still sleeping; neither the buzzing intercom nor Santos’ frenzied movements had woken her. “Su,” Santos whispered, waking her up. “You have to hide this for me, because the police are here.” She blinked at him, confused. “She didn’t understand a thing,” Santos remembers.

The doorbell started ringing. There came a loud banging on the door. Then the door burst open.

Santos moved toward the police as they broke in and thrust a hand in front of them. At 6’3″ and 340 pounds, with close-cropped hair and a tattooed neck and hands, Santos could strike an imposing figure. “Hold on, you’re not coming in without a warrant,” he said, imagining that it was the regular civil police at his door. The operation commander stepped forward: “Young man, calm yourself. This is the federal police here. And yes, we have a warrant.”

Santos froze, and he says the police pushed his face against the wall. After reading him his rights, a policeman asked Santos a question that made little sense to him at first: “Aren’t you the hacker?”

“You’ve got the wrong person,” exclaimed Oliveira, who had appeared in the bedroom doorway.

The federal police ransacked the apartment and found the 100,000 reais. Then the commander told the couple to collect some extra clothes. They were going to Brasilia, the nation’s capital, more than 600 miles to the north.

At the airport, the couple were shocked again to see they were not taking a commercial flight but were being led toward a Brazilian air force jet. “What the fuck is all this?” Santos thought. After boarding the plane, the police cuffed Santos’ hands and ankles to a chain wrapped around his waist. “We were treated like killers,” Oliveira says.

The jet took off and landed about an hour later in Ribeirão Preto. The couple were allowed to leave the plane to use the restroom. There, in the hangar of the airport, they spotted Delgatti standing between two federal police officers, wearing a suit and tie. “And I knew right there,” Santos says. Delgatti had dragged him into the biggest mess of his life.