Federal Bureau of Investigation arrests CEO who allegedly sold modded phones to criminals

Federal Bureau of Investigation arrests CEO who allegedly sold modded phones to criminals”

A heavily-redacted complaint by FBI Special Agent Nicholas Cheviron was filed in the Southern District of California last Thursday charges Ramos of racketeering conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs, conspiracy to distribute narcotics, and aiding and abetting.

The FBI has arrested the owner of Phantom Secure, one of a number of phone companies that it claims sells customised BlackBerry and Android devices for use in global criminal organisations. And if one of these devices is confiscated by law enforcement, it can be remotely wiped by Phantom Secure. According to authorities, Phantom Secure was "set up specifically to facilitate criminal activity". Phantom secure devices are based on Blackberry, Samsung, and Android smartphones that are stripped of most of their factory hardware and programs for encrypted features that are routed through servers in Panama and Hong Kong.

"Phantom Secure's devices and service were specifically created to prevent law enforcement from intercepting and monitoring communication on the network, and every facet of Phantom Secure's corporate structure was set up specifically to facilitate criminal activity and obstruct, impede and evade law enforcement", according to the complaint. Authorities arrested Ramos on Thursday, according to the court docket. Most damning of all, Ramos is said to have told the sting operation's agents: "We made it-we made it specifically for this [drug trafficking] too".

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Phantom Secure takes what appear to be BlackBerry 9720s and removes the microphones, camera, GPS, Internet capabilities, and normal messenger services. Furthermore, a convicted member of the Sinaloa cartel said the gang bought Phantom's phones "specifically" for drug trafficking purposes, which led to the aiding and abetting charge. However, its founder and CEO, Vincent Ramos, has been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on several charges, all of which are related to selling locked-down BlackBerry phones to members of illegal organizations such as the Sinaloa drug cartel and the Hells Angels. Multiple undercover agents, posing as drug traffickers aiming to expand their operations, met Ramos in Las Vegas in February 2017. They asked if it was OK to sell drugs using the phones, and Phantom replied affirmatively.

The Phantom Secure devices are frequently used by the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, according to the complaint.

Encryption has become a touchy subject for tech companies, who have to balance the desires of the government and law enforcement officials against the need for privacy demanded by their customers.

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