Monday, December 9, 2013

Drug Courier or Businesswoman: Why was Claudia Membreno Gomez Murdered?

The story is basically this: Claudia and her husband, parents to four children, ran a private package service between Alexandria, Virginia and their country of birth, Honduras. One of the parents would be with the children while the other drove or flew between the countries every month to bring American goods to families back home in Honduras and return with Honduran goods - specialty food items and lovingly made presents to those family members who had left and were working in the US. Claudia had been on her run to Honduras when she was shot to death in her home in front of the four children.

Read here for the complete article. 

Now, as usual, the media leaves out so much information that readers are likely to make their own assumptions as to what occurred. The first thought that popped up in my mind was how could enough money be made transporting gifts to even cover the airfare? So, the thought of drugs popped into my head quite quickly. Claudia had been receiving threatening phone calls from some gang attempting to extort money from her. She had not reported the calls to the police.

An explanation about the nonreporting of these threats to the authorities was that the police in Honduras are not responsive to such issues, so she didn't inform them. I could understand there might be truth in this considering the high level of crime in Honduras; I have been there and can say it is not the safest country in the world at the moment.

But, still, I was questioning the lucrativeness of this package business; it didn't make sense to me that the Gomezes would find profitable the taking of overstuffed suitcases back and forth to Honduras if there wasn't something more. Could they be drug runners? But, then, something further on in the story caught my eye; Claudia is a devout Jehovah's Witness and being involved in crime is extremely unlikely for someone who is a baptized Witness. So I did some more exploring on the Internet for an answer to this package business.

Turns out, Claudia is what is called a viajera (and her husband is a viajero), the Spanish word for traveler. However, Claudia's role is more than traveling back and forth between countries doing a private UPS job. Being a successful viajera involved also being a private Western Union. Due to concerns about sending money home to Honduras via Western Union for a number of reasons (theft in Honduras, lack of documentation to pick up money, etc), many prefer to use a trusted private service, someone who carries the money down on their person. This is not illegal, so Claudia was committing no crime in doing so.  But, it was likely, she was transporting large sums of money on her to distribute upon arrival, possibly as high as $20,000, a percentage of which she gets for her service. Now it makes sense that the Gomezes were running a private package service; it is a good moneymaker.

But a damned dangerous one. Many viajeras and viajeras have armed guards with them because of the danger of robbery. Claudia, it seems, was known to some gang who wished to get a cut of her earnings; hence, the threats of extortion a la the old protection racket run by the mob.

I wish the news reporters had done some research before they printed their story. I wonder how many people will think the Gomezes were criminals as opposed to, perhaps, being foolish in their choice to operate a business which is awfully dangerous for parents of four children. Now, there are four children without one.

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown

December 9, 2013

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