Police in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have broken up an alleged multi-million-dollar scam involving the famed Christ the Redeemer monument, a towering statue of Jesus with extended arms that is one of the world's most visited tourist locations.
At least 20 people were arrested in a bust the police called "Operation Iscariot," for Judas Iscariot, who in the New Testament of the Bible betrayed Jesus.
According to Brazilian officials, the scam allegedly involved ticket agents, tour guides, security guards and other employees of Tijuca National Park, who ripped off $9 million in fees paid by tourists.
Police say the employees turned in tourist fees for only one of every 15 official tour trams visiting the monument, keeping the rest of the money for themselves.
The cost to visit the Christ the Redeemer statue is about $10, and the monument has millions of visitors each year. Police estimate the suspects were allegedly pocketing some $50,000 to $250,000 a month.
Christ the Redeemer is located at the top of Rio's famed Mount Corcovado. Legend has it that "Christ" always looks over Rio and its citizens. Trains to see the statue, particularly during high-tourist season, are packed.
The bust comes as police in Rio are cracking down on crimes against tourists in the seaside city.
"It's a quality of life issue," said a spokesman for the Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"Operation Judas" is part of a larger effort by Brazilian authorities to change Rio's image as a beautiful but crime-ridden city. Rio is slated to host the Pan-American games this summer, and the Christ the Redeemer statue is under consideration to be named one of the new seven wonders of the world.
Rio's tourism industry sees the arrest as a good thing, says the spokesman.
"We're focused on corruption from the bottom up, and these are steps to improve the quality of life in the city for the citizens and for the visitors," he said.