Owner of Florida Telecommunications Company Pleads Guilty, Second Defendant Sentenced to 52 Months in Prison for Involvement in International Cellphone Fraud Scheme
The owner and operator of a Florida-based telecommunications company pleaded guilty today and a West Palm Beach, Florida, resident was sentenced yesterday to 52 months in prison in connection with a sophisticated global cellphone fraud scheme that involved compromising cellphone customers’ accounts and “cloning” their phones to make fraudulent international calls.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.
Ramon Batista, 49, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, access device fraud, the use, production or possession of modified telecommunications instruments, and the use or possession of hardware or software configured to obtain telecommunications services; one count of wire fraud; and one count of aggravated identity theft. Sentencing for Batista will be scheduled for a later date before Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley in the Southern District of Florida. Judge Hurley sentenced Jose Santana, aka Octavio Perez, 53, yesterday to 52 months in prison on similar charges. Santana pleaded guilty on Oct. 26, 2016.
According to the plea agreements, Batista, Santana and their co-conspirators participated in a scheme to steal access to and fraudulently open new cellphone accounts using the personal information of individuals around the United States. Batista, Santana and others also operated “call sites” in South Florida and elsewhere, where they would receive telecommunications identifying information associated with customers’ accounts from their co-conspirators and use that data, as well as other software and hardware, to reprogram cellphones that they controlled. Batista and other co-conspirators would then transmit thousands of international calls over the internet to the call sites, where Batista, Santana and others would route them through the re-programmed cellphones to Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and other countries with high calling rates. The calls were billed to the customers’ compromised accounts.
Batista admitted that his role in the scheme included selling fraudulent telecommunications services through his company, Arymyx, Inc.; operating a “call site” with reprogrammed cellphones through which he routed international phone calls as part of the fraud scheme; and using and providing other co-conspirators with stolen or compromised telecommunications identifying information that was then employed to reprogram cellphones.
In addition, Batista admitted that he sent or received 1,132 “lines,” that is, combinations of telecommunications identifying numbers for specific devices or accounts associated with U.S. cellphone customers. Likewise, Santana admitted that, in just one 11-month period, he received more than 1,000 emails containing similar “lines.” Batista and Santana also admitted that that they were personally responsible for, respectively, more than $794,000 and $170,000 in loss resulting from the scheme.
Batista is the fourth defendant to plead guilty in the case and Santana is the second to be sentenced. Edwin Fana and Farintong Calderon previously pleaded guilty to similar charges in this matter. Fana was sentenced on Dec. 22, 2016, to 48 months in prison and Calderon is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 21, 2017.
The FBI investigated the case, dubbed Operation Toll Free, which is part of the bureau’s ongoing effort to combat large-scale telecommunications fraud. Senior Counsel Matthew A. Lamberti of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared M. Strauss of the Southern District of Florida are prosecuting the case.