Former Owner of T-Mobile Retail Store in Eagle Rock Found Guilty of Committing $25 Million Scheme to Illegally Unlock Cellphones
LOS ANGELES – A former owner of a T-Mobile retail store in Eagle Rock has been found guilty by a jury of 14 federal criminal charges for his $25 million scheme to enrich himself by stealing T-Mobile employee credentials and illegally accessing the company’s internal computer systems to illicitly “unlock” and “unblock” cellphones, the Justice Department announced today.
Argishti Khudaverdyan, 44, of Burbank, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of wire fraud, two counts of accessing a computer to defraud and obtain value, one count of intentionally accessing a computer without authorization to obtain information, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, five counts of money laundering, and one count of aggravated identity theft.
The jury returned the guilty verdict Friday evening in United States District Court.
According to evidence presented at his four-day trial, Khudaverdyan ran a multi-year scheme that illegally unlocked and unblocked cellphones, which generated approximately $25 million in criminal proceeds. During this time, most cellphone companies – including T-Mobile – “locked” their customers’ phones so they could be used only on the company’s network until the customers’ phone and service contracts had been fulfilled. If customers wanted to switch to a different carrier, their phones had to be “unlocked.” Carriers also “blocked” cellphones to protect consumers in the case of lost or stolen cellphones.
From August 2014 to June 2019, Khudaverdyan fraudulently unlocked and unblocked cellphones on T-Mobile’s network, as well as the networks of Sprint, AT&T and other carriers. Removing the unlock allowed the phones to be sold on the black market and enabled T-Mobile customers to stop using T-Mobile’s services and thereby deprive T-Mobile of revenue generated from customers’ service contracts and equipment installment plans.
Khudaverdyan advertised his fraudulent unlocking services through brokers, email solicitations, and websites such as unlocks247.com. He falsely claimed the fraudulent unlocks that he provided were “official” T-Mobile unlocks.
From January 2017 through June 2017, Khudaverdyan and a former business partner were also co-owners of Top Tier Solutions Inc., a T-Mobile store in Eagle Rock Plaza. However, after T-Mobile terminated Khudaverdyan’s contract in June 2017 based on his suspicious computer behavior and association with unauthorized unlocking of cellphones, Khudaverdyan continued his fraud.
To gain unauthorized access to T-Mobile’s protected internal computers, Khudaverdyan obtained T-Mobile employees’ credentials through various dishonest means, including sending phishing emails that appeared to be legitimate T-Mobile correspondence, and socially engineering the T-Mobile IT Help Desk. Khudaverdyan used the fraudulent emails to trick T-Mobile employees to log in with their employee credentials so he could harvest the employees’ information and fraudulently unlock the phones.
Working with others in overseas call centers, Khudaverdyan also received T‑Mobile employee credentials which he then used to access T-Mobile systems to target higher-level employees by harvesting those employees’ personal identifying information and calling the T-Mobile IT Help Desk to reset the employees’ company passwords, giving him unauthorized access to the T-Mobile systems which allowed him to unlock and unblock cellphones.
All told, Khudaverdyan and others compromised and stole more than 50 different T-Mobile employees’ credentials from employees across the United States, and they unlocked and unblocked hundreds of thousands of cellphones during the years of the scheme.
Khudaverdyan obtained more than $25 million for these criminal activities. He used these illegal proceeds to pay for, among other things, real estate in Burbank and Northridge.
United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson scheduled an October 17 sentencing hearing, at which time Khudaverdyan will face statutory maximum sentences of 20 years in federal prison for each wire fraud count, 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering, 10 years in federal prison for each money laundering count, five years in federal prison for each count of intentionally accessing a computer without authorization to obtain information, five years in federal prison for the count of accessing a computer to defraud and obtain value, and a mandatory two years in federal prison for aggravated identity theft.
Alen Gharehbagloo, 43, of La Cañada Flintridge, a co-defendant and a former co-owner of Top Tier Solutions Inc., pleaded guilty on July 5 to three felonies: conspiracy to commit wire fraud, accessing a protected computer with intent to defraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 5.
The United States Secret Service Cyber Fraud Task Force (CFTF) in Los Angeles and IRS Criminal Investigation’s Western Area Cyber Crime Unit investigated this matter. The CFTF includes representatives of the United States Secret Service, the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and the California Highway Patrol.
Assistant United States Attorneys Lisa E. Feldman and Andrew M. Roach of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section are prosecuting this case. Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan S. Galatzan, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Section, is handling the asset forfeiture portion of this case.