A gospel singer turned celebrity politician is accused of masterminding the brutal assassination of her husband – who was once her adopted son – with the help of five of the couple’s 55 children.
Brazil’s Flordelis dos Santos de Souza – a rags-to-riches celebrity whose story was documented in a popular film – is fighting to avoid jail over the 2019 murder.
Anderson do Carmo, 42, was discovered shot 30 times, mostly in the groin, in the garage of the family’s home in Rio de Janeiro in June that year.
His 59-year-old wife, known to her fans as Flordelis, claims he had been killed in a botched robbery – insisting she is devastated by her husband’s death and that she is innocent.
Flordelis met – and adopted – Mr Do Carmo in 1991 when he was 14 and she was 30, and they married in 1998 after becoming romantically involved.
The couple, both celebrities in Brazil, are understood to have adopted 51 children and had four of their own.
Flordelis began adopting children in 2015, after taking pity on youths whose lives were surrounded by violence in Rio’s infamously impoverished and crime-ridden streets.
This has all added to her status as a politician and celebrity of Christian values, and secured her place as a powerful and popular figure within Brazil’s conservative Social Democratic Party. In the 2018 general election she won 197,000 votes, the most achieved by a woman in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
But despite her popularity and her claims of innocence, prosecutors in Rio say they have now found evidence proving that Flordelis ordered the assassination of her husband.
Heavily armed police arrested five of her children and one granddaughter, but were unable to detain Flordelis since she enjoys parliamentary immunity.
Now police are calling on politicians to change the rules so they can arrest her.
They say she tried to poison her husband at least six times over several months before telling several children to stage a break-in at the family home and kill him.
Investigators say the motive was financial and the result of a power struggle within the family. They described a vicious family feud in which Flordelis’ husband blocked her from giving “preferential treatment” to her favourite children.
Brazilian newspapers have this week been filled with surreal details of Flordelis’ alleged crimes – reporting that she began plotting to kill her husband in 2018.
Her daughter’s internet search history allegedly included the words “cyanide in food”. The teenager said she was trying to help a friend who wanted advice on how to put down her dog.
The reports include claims she wanted to kill her husband because she thought divorce ungodly, leaving her with no choice.
“What am I supposed to do? I can’t separate from him because that would scandalise the name of God,” she allegedly said in a message to one of her children.
Police reportedly believe that in the hours before Mr Do Carmo’s shooting, he and Flordelis visited a swingers club in the Rio neighbourhood of Botafogo.
They allege that Flavio dos Santos Rodrigues, Ms de Souza’s biological son, shot his stepfather with a gun bought by Cesar dos Santos, one of the couple’s adopted children.
“The motive was that she was unhappy with the way in which Pastor Anderson lived his life and handled the family finances,” Antônio Ricardo Lima Nunes, the murder chief in Rio de Janeiro, told reporters.
“The conclusion the investigation reached was this – that she planned this cowardly murder.”
Police are powerless to arrest her, but that could change soon.
In an official petition to the speaker of the nation’s lower house on Tuesday, Léo Motta, a right wing congressman and former police officer, demanded she be stripped of her term.
“Given the avalanche of evidence against Congresswoman Flordelis, it is clear she cannot remain in the position to which she was elected,” Mr Motta, who is also a gospel singer, argued in the document.
“It’s worth stressing that the Congresswoman always sought to project the image of a Christian woman, committed to raising her adopted children and concerned about the family, while simultaneously exhibiting behaviour which – if the police inquiry’s claims prove true – suggests a perverse, crime-inclined heart.”
Allan Duarte, the police commissioner, told Brazilian TV that his investigation had proved that the Congresswoman’s “image of altruism and decency was merely a ploy to gain wealth and political power”.
Flordelis’ lawyer has protested his client’s innocence. He told Brazilian media she “is very upset with everything that’s happening, because she is innocent. She never ordered this savage crime”.