CEO of Encrypted Communications Company Pleads Guilty to Operating a Criminal Enterprise that Facilitated the Transnational Distribution of Narcotics
Assistant U. S. Attorneys Andrew Young (619) 546-7981, Mark W. Pletcher (619) 546-9714 and Benjamin J. Katz (619) 546-9604
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – October 2, 2018
SAN DIEGO – Vincent Ramos, the chief executive of Canada-based Phantom Secure, pleaded guilty today to leading a criminal enterprise that facilitated the transnational importation and distribution of narcotics through the sale and service of encrypted communications devices.
In his plea agreement, Ramos admitted that he and his co-conspirators facilitated the distribution of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to locations around the world including in the United States, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Thailand and Europe by supplying narcotics traffickers with Phantom Secure encrypted communications devices designed to thwart law enforcement. To keep the communications out of the reach of law enforcement, Ramos and others maintained Phantom Secure servers in Panama and Hong Kong, used virtual proxy servers to disguise the physical location of its servers, and remotely deleted or “wiped” devices seized by law enforcement. Ramos and his co-conspirators required a personal reference from an existing client to obtain a Phantom Secure device. And Ramos used digital currencies, including Bitcoin, to facilitate financial transactions for Phantom Secure to protect users’ anonymity and launder proceeds from Phantom Secure. Ramos admitted that at least 450 kilograms of cocaine were distributed using Phantom Secure devices.
As part of his guilty plea, Ramos agreed to an $80 million forfeiture money judgment as well as the forfeiture of tens of millions of dollars in identified assets, ranging from bank accounts worldwide, to houses, to a Lamborghini, to cryptocurrency accounts, to gold coins. In addition, Ramos agreed to forfeit the server licenses and over 150 domains which were being used to operate the infrastructure of the Phantom Secure network, enabling it to send and receive encrypted messages for criminals.
“The Phantom Secure encrypted communication service was designed with one purpose – to provide drug traffickers and other violent criminals with a secure means by which to communicate openly about criminal activity without fear of detection by law enforcement,” said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman. “As a result of this investigation, Phantom Secure has been dismantled and its CEO Vincent Ramos now faces a significant prison sentence. The United States will investigate and prosecute anyone who provides support, in any form, to criminal organizations, including those who try to help criminal organizations ‘go dark’ on law enforcement.”
“Today’s guilty plea of Phantom Secure’s CEO, Vincent Ramos, is a significant strike against transnational organized crime,” said John Brown, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego Field Office. “The FBI and our international law enforcement partners have demonstrated that we will not be deterred by those who exploit encryption to benefit criminal organizations and assist in evading law enforcement. With this case, we have successfully shut down the communication network of dangerous criminals who operated across the globe.”
Ramos’s co-defendants - Kim Augustus Rodd, Younes Nasri, Michael Gamboa and Christopher Poquiz – remain international fugitives, charged with participating in and aiding and abetting a racketeering enterprise and conspiring to import and distribute controlled substances around the world. All have been charged with Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962 and Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 and 846.
Ramos is scheduled to be sentenced on December 17, 2018 before U.S. District Judge Sentencing was set for December 17 before Judge Hayes
This case was investigated by FBI San Diego. In addition to our foreign law enforcement partners, the U.S. Attorney’s Office further recognizes the support and assistance of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Customs and Border Protection; the Department of Homeland Security; Seattle and Las Vegas field offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Washington State Police Department; the City of Bellingham, Washington Police Department; the City of Blaine, Washington Police Department; and the Canada Border Services Agency, among others, without whose help this prosecution could not have been possible.
This case is the result of ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership that brings together the combined expertise of federal, state and local law enforcement. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, dismantle and prosecute high-level members of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, and money laundering organizations and enterprises.
DEFENDANT Case Number 18CR1404-WQH
Vincent Ramos (1) Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Racketeering Conspiracy (RICO Conspiracy), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d)
Maximum Penalty: 20 years prison
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Drug Enforcement Administration
Department of Justice, Office of International Affairs
Australian Federal Police
New South Wales Police (Australia)
New South Wales Crime Commission (Australia)
Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
International Assistance Group, Department of Justice, Canada