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Killer Ratings? TV Crime Host in Custody, Charged With Plotting Murder to Boost Audience

(AP Photo/A Critica, Antonio Menezes)
Photo: Wallace Souza.

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) A former TV crime show host and state legislator accused of commissioning killings to boost ratings turned himself in to authorities Friday and was jailed on homicide and drug trafficking charges.

Authorities spent four days looking for Wallace Souza in the jungle city of Manaus after a warrant was issued for his arrest on charges of drug trafficking, gang formation and weapons possession.

A new warrant was issued for the 2007 killing of drug trafficker Cleomir Pereira Bernardino, though it was not one of the five slayings under investigation in connection with his "Canal Livre" crime show, police spokeswoman Emanuelle Araujo said.

Souza is accused of renting the car that Bernardino's killers used in their attack, according to the homicide arrest warrant signed by Judge Mirza Telma.

Souza has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, but a state legislative committee ousted him from his post last week.

The judge that issued the previous warrant, Mauro Antony, described Souza as the "mentor" of a gang that killed rival drug traffickers.

Souza had remained free because of legislative immunity that prevents Brazilian lawmakers from arrest on most charges unless they are caught in the act. But he lost that immunity after being stripped of his political status.

Authorities say Souza's alleged crimes appear to have served him in two ways: They eliminated drug-trafficking rivals, and boosted ratings.

Souza became a media personality after a career as a police officer that ended in disgrace.

He started "Canal Livre" in the 1980s on a local commercial station in Manaus, the capital of Brazil's largely lawless Amazonas state. It became extremely popular among Manaus' 1.7 million residents before going off the air late last year as police intensified their investigation.

The show featured Souza in a studio, railing against rampant crime, punctuated with often exclusive footage of arrests, crime scenes and drug seizures.

One clip showed a reporter approaching a freshly burned corpse, covering his nose with his shirt and breezily remarking that "it smells like barbecue." Police say the victim was one of the five allegedly murdered at Souza's behest.

In an interview in August with The Associated Press, Souza denied any role in that killing and all others. He said his reporters managed to crime scenes so quickly because of well-placed sources and monitoring scanners for police radio dispatches.

The show also posted workers at police stations, and at the Manaus morgue, where word often came first about newly discovered bodies.