Former Owners of T-Mobile Retail Store Arrested on Federal Charges Alleging $25 Million Scheme to Illicitly Unlock Cell Phones
LOS ANGELES – Two men who formerly owned a T-Mobile retail store in Eagle Rock were arrested this morning on federal charges that allege a scheme to use stolen T-Mobile employee credentials to illegally infiltrate the mobile phone company’s internal computer systems to “unlock” cell phones so they could be used on any carrier’s network. The defendants were arrested pursuant to a 21-count grand jury indictment outlining the scheme that investigators believe earned the two men more than $25 million.
Argishti Khudaverdyan, 41, of Burbank, and Alen Gharehbagloo, 40, of La Cañada Flintridge, are charged with multiple felonies, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, computer fraud and money laundering. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of more than $2.25 million seized from several bank accounts and residential properties allegedly purchased with ill-gotten gains.
Khudaverdyan and Gharehbagloo are expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
According to the indictment, for the first six months of 2017, Khudaverdyan and Gharehbagloo were co-owners of Top Tier Solutions, Inc., a T-Mobile premium retail store in the Eagle Rock Plaza in Northeastern Los Angeles. During this time, most cellular phone companies – including T-Mobile – “locked” their customers’ phones so they could be used only on the company’s network until the customers’ phone-purchase and service contracts had been fulfilled. If customers wanted to switch to a different carrier, their phones had to be “unlocked.”
Khudaverdyan and Gharehbagloo allegedly conspired to fraudulently unlock T-Mobile phones, which would allow 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. The defendants also allegedly conspired to “whitelist” or “clean” phones that had been reported lost or stolen so they could be activated again.
Between August 2014 and January 2019, Khudaverdyan and Gharehbagloo allegedly advertised their unlocking services through brokers, email solicitations and websites such as unlocks247.com. The defendants falsely claimed they provided “official” T-Mobile unlocks.
In order to gain unauthorized access to T-Mobile’s protected internal computers, Khudaverdyan obtained T-Mobile employees’ credentials through various means, including phishing emails that appeared to be legitimate T-Mobile correspondence. The fraudulent emails were used by Khudaverdyan to deceive T-Mobile employees to log in with their employee credentials so that Khudaverdyan could harvest the employees’ information and fraudulently unlock the phones, according to the indictment. Khudaverdyan and Gharehbagloo, assisted by a co-conspirator, allegedly used the Wi-Fi access points inside T-Mobile Stores to log onto the company’s internal network using compromised employee credentials.
Investigators have determined that Khudaverdyan and Gharehbagloo obtained more than $25 million for these illicit activities. They allegedly used these illegal proceeds to pay for, among other things, real properties in Burbank, Northridge and La Cañada Flintridge.
The indictment in this case was returned by a federal grand jury on June 6 and unsealed today.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If Khudaverdyan is convicted of all 17 counts in which he is charged, he would face a statutory maximum of 237 years in federal prison. If convicted of all 15 counts with which he is charged, Gharehbagloo would face a statutory maximum of 235 years in federal prison.
This matter is being investigated by the United States Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force (ECTF) in Los Angeles and IRS Criminal Investigation’s Western Area Cyber Crime Unit. The ECTF includes representatives of the Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, and the California Highway Patrol.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jennie L. Wang of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section and Special Assistant United States Attorney Ryan Waters of the Asset Forfeiture Section.