The investigative journalist has reported on black markets for 20 years, but the job continues to surprise her. We find out about her most interesting encounters
By Laura Rutkowski, Senior Staff Writer
Award-winning correspondent Mariana van Zeller brought viewers inside the world of the most dangerous black markets for the first series of National Geographic’s Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller. Now she’s back for ten new episodes in an attempt to understand the inner workings of everything from outlaw motorcycle clubs and meth to romance scams and stolen cars.
Van Zeller’s job is to lure out the key players from the world’s multitrillion-dollar shadow economy and ask the hard-hitting questions.
Here, interviewer becomes interviewee as we ask her to share her stories about the moments that shocked her most from each episode of series 2.
Episode 1 – Meth
Monday 14 February, 9pm, National Geographic HD (CH 266)
Mariana van Zeller: “We gained access to this meth super-lab that was making two tonnes of meth every month to send to the United States – and we saw how they’ve managed to control the whole pipeline. Before, they were receiving a lot of these precursor chemicals necessary to make meth from China. Now they know how to make their own precursor chemicals, so the meth they’re making is incredibly pure, incredibly dangerous and deadly. [It was] like Breaking Bad, but in the jungles of Mexico.”
Episode 2 – Black Market Surgery
Monday 21 February, 9pm, National Geographic HD (CH 266)
MVZ: “Many women are dying from illegal silicone injections at the hands of supposedly professional doctors, or “pumpers” as they’re called, in strip mall clinics in Florida. Being in a motel room and seeing this person injecting silicone into somebody else’s butt, I could see an immediate transformation, yet at the same time, I knew it was incredibly risky.”
Episode 3 – Stolen Cars
Monday 28 February, 9pm, National Geographic HD (CH 266)
MVZ: “We were with a group that steals cars here in Los Angeles and we were just 15 minutes away from my home, following these guys as they’re looking for cars that they had already located and were planning on stealing that night. Within the space of less than half an hour, they stole two cars and one of them was in a neighbourhood very close to my own. Seeing how fast they do it with these key fobs that they create purposely per car was really shocking.”
Episode 4 – Black Market Marijuana
Monday 7 March, 9pm, National Geographic HD (CH 266)
MVZ: “The business for illegal weed in California is actually four times bigger than the business for legal weed and that’s crazy. We filmed one of the scenes in downtown Los Angeles, again not far from my house, on the rooftop of a building of a parking lot. It was sort of like a Costco for illegal weed. They were selling illegal weed wholesale in huge boxes and quantities and you’d see cars coming up and down this parking structure all up to the open roof. It was being shipped all over the United States and around the world as well.”
Episode 5 – Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs
Monday 14 March, 9pm, National Geographic HD (CH 266)
MVZ: “Outlaw motorcycle clubs are some of the most secretive groups in the world. We gained access to a group called the Sons of Silence during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Out of everyone we’ve ever interviewed, they were the only ones who answered our questions on paper first and told me I was not allowed to ask any questions that were not on it. During the interview, I asked them all the questions I wasn’t supposed to, because that’s my job. Sometimes not answering is more telling than actually the answer itself.”
Episode 6 – White Supremacy
Monday 21 March, 9pm, National Geographic HD (CH 266)
MVZ: “Sitting across the table from an American Nazi who’s dressed up with his Nazi paraphernalia and openly inciting violence and him talking about wanting a race war to come to America fast was the scariest moment in the season. Also, realising how this person is actually connected to a global network of white supremacists, including in Europe.”
Episode 7 – Cocaine Queens
Monday 28 March, 9pm, National Geographic HD (CH 266)
MVZ: “We spent months trying to gain access to a female leader of this cartel called Los Caparros and finally we were allowed into her compound. Within minutes of starting the interview, her security guards took her to safety and told us it wasn’t safe anymore. As we were leaving, we heard shots being fired. It was the rival group, the Clan del Golfo, which is the biggest cartel in Colombia at the moment, who had ambushed them. Thankfully, everybody was safe, so the next day, we were able to go back, but it was a very close call.”
Episode 8 – Romance Scams
Monday 4 April, 9pm, National Geographic HD (CH 266)
MVZ: “It’s a crime that grew by 300% during the pandemic, partly because the romance scammers exploited that global loneliness we were all feeling. We think of just one guy and a computer in an internet café, but they often operate in groups and it’s really professional, where each one has a job. There’s the guy that does the fake graphics, the hunter that finds the perfect victims, and then there’s the finisher, who goes for the kill to ask for a big amount of money.”
Episode 9 – Amazon Mafia
Monday 11 April, 9pm, National Geographic HD (CH 266)
MVZ: “I’ve travelled extensively throughout the Amazon and we’ve all heard about the destruction of the Amazon, but actually watching a tree that’s hundreds of years old being cut down by illegal loggers was a moment I’ll never forget.”
Episode 10 – Fish Pirates
Monday 18 April, 9pm, National Geographic HD (CH 266)
MVZ: “Being out in the middle of the ocean in the pitch darkness off the coast of Liberia with these huge waves while on a tiny little boat and having to jump into another boat that we suspected was fishing illegally, not knowing what to expect or who we were going to see, was a difficult moment.”
When is National Geographic’s Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller on TV?
Series 2 of Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller airs on National Geographic HD (CH 266) on Mondays at 9pm, with the first episode screening on Monday 14 February. It is also available for 30 days in Catch Up > Channels > National Geographic.
The ten-part series will subsequently air every week until Monday 18 April.
TV channels: Channels, content and features available depend on your chosen package. Channel line-ups and content are subject to change at any time and to regional variations.
HD: HD TV set, V HD Box, TiVo box, Virgin TV V6 box or Virgin TV 360 box connected with HDMI cables required for HD channels. Number of inclusive HD channels depends on package.
Catch Up TV: Catch Up TV content available for up to 7 days or up to 30 days after broadcast, depending on content.
Interviews: Any opinions expressed in interviews are those of the interview subject and not those of Virgin Media.
Image credits: Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller © National Geographic