08/31/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT
A reporter treads through dense forest, camera crew in tow. He comes upon a clearing, where a pile on the ground is smoldering. "It smells like a barbecue," he says as the camera rolls. "It is a man . . . it was an execution."
It is another dramatic scoop for the hit TV show Canal Livre—Brazil's version of America's Most Wanted—and the show's popular host Wallace Souza. But police in the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas say there's a reason Souza's crews were always first at the scene of grisly murders—they believe it was Souza who ordered the killings. A state legislator as well as a TV host, Souza, 51, is being investigated for allegedly running a drug-trafficking gang. Police think he arranged five murders from 2007 to 2009—all of which were featured on his show—so he could "exterminate some of his enemies and at the same time increase his audience," says state security official Tomaz Vasconcelos.
Souza, an ex-cop and divorced father of four, won three landslide elections thanks in part to his stance against drugs and violence. "He denies everything," says his attorney Francisco Balieiro. Souza got the scoops, he insists, because he has better sources than cops: "The police are incompetent. A lot of times they can't even determine blood type."
But officials claim Souza's son Rafael, 26, personally killed some of the five victims, including a drug dealer named Cacula—murdered to avenge the death of Souza's brother, a drug addict. When Rafael told him Cacula was dead, police say, Souza replied, "He is going to sell drugs in hell."
Police raided Souza's home in Manaus and seized illegal ammunition and $150,000 in cash; they have also arrested Rafael. But as a legislator Souza cannot be arrested, and remains free for now. His TV show, once immensely popular, has been shut down. "They want to destroy his political career," says Souza's sister Marluce. "He is a very tranquil person. How can people transform him into a monster?"