A Richmond, BC man who was the CEO of Canada-based Phantom Secure, was sentenced to nine years in prison this week, for what authorities said was his role in “leading a criminal enterprise,” largely through the act of selling encrypted smartphones to international criminal networks.
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According to the US Attorney’s Office, Vincent Ramos, 41, advertised Phantom Secure’s products as impervious to decryption, wiretapping, or legal third-party records requests. His company also “routinely” deleted and destroyed evidence from devices that it knew had been seized by law enforcement.
“Vincent Ramos is going to prison because he provided violent, drug trafficking organizations with a high tech tool that enabled them to coordinate their crimes while staying in the shadows,” said US Attorney Robert Brewer.
According to court documents, one of Ramos’s customers, used only six Phantom Secure devices to coordinate the transportation of more than a tonne of cocaine from Mexico into the US and then on to Canada and Australia.
“Ramos’ customers used his products to devastating and sometimes deadly effect, and Ramos used this to market his encryption services to criminals across the world,” the US Attorney’s Office said.
Court documents show that in response to a March 5, 2014 news article that reported investigations of a gangland murder were stymied because the suspects used Phantom Secure devices to coordinate the killing, Ramos wrote it was the “best verification on what we have been saying all along – proven and effective for now over nine years. It can’t get better than that.”
The international operation to arrest Ramos and seize Phantom Secure’s infrastructure involved cooperation and efforts by law enforcement authorities in the US, Australia, and Canada, with additional assistance from US and foreign law enforcement in Panama, Hong Kong, and Thailand.
This conviction marks the first time the US has targeted a company and convicted its chief executive for knowingly providing transnational criminal organizations, with the encrypted infrastructure to conduct the international importation and distribution of narcotics.
“Striking at the heart of organized crime has always been a priority for the FBI,” said Scott Brunner, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego Field Office.
This particular case, he said, “demonstrates that no matter the dangerous criminal activity or the advanced technology used by these sophisticated criminal enterprises, the FBI will keep pace to infiltrate and dismantle the organizations that, in today’s world, operate domestically and internationally.”
Ramos’s co-defendants – Kim Augustus Rodd, Younes Nasri, Michael Gamboa and Christopher Poquiz – remain international fugitives. They are charged with participating in and aiding and abetting a racketeering enterprise, and conspiring to import and distribute controlled substances around the world.