Brazil's Fans Turn to Violent Crime as Economy Sputters

05/12/2015 03:46 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2016

In São Paulo recently, gunmen raided the fan club of popular first division soccer team Corinthians called Pavilion 9 during a party, forced eight members to the floor and murdered them in cold blood.

The mob-style rubout killed more people than the infamous St. Valentines Day Massacre orchestrated by Chicago gangster Al Capone.

But in Brazil, where riots and killings are part of the urban landscape, people shrug it off and the victims become part of the body count in the growing conflict between haves and have-nots.

Corinthians, who represent of Sao Paulo's underclass, is the favorite soccer team of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Lula became a Corinthiano when he was a poor kid hustling for work on the streets of Sao Paulo half a century ago.

But the man Brazilians affectionately call "the squid" didn't make any ink about the killings.

He was busy doing a photo op at a local health club, spiffing his image as he prepares to run for president in the 2018 national election.

Lula remains the most popular political figure in the public opinion polls He is also a behind-the-scene adviser to his hand-picked successor, president Dilma Rousseff.

Dilma faces an uphill struggle now that her left wing Workers Party has lost control of Congress.

Dilma, who is not a football fan, has kept her distance from the Corinthians fan club murders

When the event was first reported by Brazilian media on April 19th, public security officials in Sao Paulo called it a settling of accounts between fans linked to organized crime and the nation's booming drug trade.

Brazil is the largest market for marijuana, cocaine, heroin and designer drugs in Latin America and football fans who like to party are big users.

The Corinthians Pavilion 9 fan club is one of many organized groups supporting soccer teams who are associated with the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), which is sanctioned by FIFA.

But neither the CBF, nor FIFA can control Pavilion 9.

Lula is like a godfather to all Corinthians fans including the controversial Pavilion 9 group, many of whom vote the Workers Party ticket.

During his two terms in office (2003-2010) Lula's populist policies created job opportunities and social programs that helped many Corinthianos bootstrap out of poverty.

Now, however, Brazil's economy is in recession and inflation is running at 8.17 percent. The price of beer, a staple for Corinthianos, just increased 10 percent.

Some law enforcement sources and criminologists in Brazil claim that that Corinthians and other soccer fan clubs are getting more involved in criminal activity in order to avoid falling back into dire straits.

The drug dealing, armed robbery, credit card fraud, extortion, and cybercrime that law enforcement allege the Pavilion 9 fans are involved with put them in the same league with prison gangs and favela comandos.

After getting pushed out of the news cycle by a new wave of killings in the turf war between Rio's favela drug comandos and the FIFA's four year ban of Brazilian international star Jobson after he was caught for illegal doping while starring for a team in Saudi Arabia, the Globo Network on May 7th published the latest findings on the murders of the eight Corinthians Pavilion 9 fan club murders.

Three members of the Sao Paulo Military Police (two active duty and one former member) are being held in preventive custody for two weeks as suspects in the murders. They will go free later this month if prosecutors are unable to produce enough evidence to mount a case against them.

Meanwhile, Corinthians are in the hunt for the Copa do Brazil trophy and the organizados of Pavilion 9 will be doing whatever it takes to represent the team tradition.