A Canadian man who sold encrypted BlackBerry smartphones to criminal gangs all over the world was sentenced this week to nine years in prison, according to the US Department of Justice.
The man’s name is Vincent Ramos, a 41-year-old who served as the CEO of Phantom Secure, a company that sold custom PGP-encrypted BlackBerry phones for more than a decade.
Phantom Secure devices used by criminal gangs
According to US authorities, Ramos’ company knowingly sold encrypted smartphones to several criminal gangs in the US, Mexico, and Australia.
Phones provided by Phantom Secure gave criminal gangs the ability to encrypt communications and remotely wipe devices when arrested members had their devices seized by law enforcement.
A criminal probe began into Ramos’ business in 2017 after law enforcement learned of his company’s products during the investigation of Owen Hanson, a former USC football player who was caught moving over a ton of cocaine from Mexico into the US.
Undercover US law enforcement agents recorded Ramos bragging about his company’s ability to hide illegal operations from police officers, openly admitting that he intentionally provided services to aid criminal operations.
Following a joint investigation with Canadian and Australian police, the FBI arrested Ramos in Washington, in March 2018. He pleaded guilty in October of the same year.
Phones used by Sinaloa cartel, Hells Angels biker gang
According to court documents, Phantom Secure’s phones had been used by members of the Sinaloa cartel to arrange the movement of drugs from Mexico to the US, and by members of the Hells Angels motorbike gang to arrange several murders.
After Ramos’ arrest, authorities dismantled Phantom Secure’s network, which consisted of servers all over the world, in locations such as Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Panama, Thailand, and the US.
Investigators said there were at least 7,000 Phantom Secure devices in use at the time of Ramos’ arrest, and the company sold over 20,000 devices during its lifetime, half of which were sold in Australia.
Authorities also charged four of Ramos’ employees and co-conspirators, but they still remain at large.
As part of his sentence, Ramos will also forfeit $80 million made while running the company, as well as real estate, cryptocurrency accounts, and gold coins.
In 2016, Dutch police shut down a similar service called Ennetcom, which also provided PGP-encrypted BlackBerry phones to criminal gangs in Europe.
Related malware and cybercrime coverage: