FBI arrests Vincent Ramos, CEO of company alleged to have sold custom BlackBerry handsets to gangs

Phantom Secure is a company known for selling customized BlackBerry models. To make the 'Berry even more secure than it is out of the box, the camera and microphones are removed and secure messages are sent only through private networks. While certain businesses and politicians might have an interest in such a device, it appears that a percentage of Phantom Secure's business is conducted with gangs, according to a report published on Saturday.

Partially redacted complaint filed by the feds against Vincent Ramos

Partially redacted complaint filed by the feds against Vincent Ramos

Papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California last week, charge Phantom Secure's founder and CEO Vincent Ramos with racketeering, conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs, and allege that he took part in a conspiracy to distribute narcotics. Ramos was also charged with aiding and abetting. The complaint adds that the company was created to help hide criminal activity.

According to the report, besides the removal of the camera and microphone, the customized BlackBerry models each have their GPS system, internet browser, and normal messaging system removed. Added to these phones is the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) software for encryption, and messages are sent through overseas networks. And if one of these devices is confiscated by law enforcement, it can be remotely wiped by Phantom Secure.

Ramos was arrested last Thursday and the complaint, which was written by FBI Special Agent Nicholas Cheviron, includes some details about the use of Phantom Secure's customized BlackBerry phones by major drug cartels and multinational crime gangs. Over 20,000 units are said to be in use with half of those being used in Australia.

You can check out the entire complaint by clicking on the sourcelink below.

source: DocumentCloud via Motherboard

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19 Comments

2. Pitrich

Posts: 239; Member since: Apr 13, 2016

So he's locked up for basically making a phone truely private

9. Gadgetex

Posts: 191; Member since: Nov 10, 2013

Not quite.. He should have just sold it without saying too much. What he said got him into trouble. Freedom of speech can work against you in California

17. PenTiltoKet

Posts: 552; Member since: May 18, 2016

Agree..!!! Trully private... NOT more secure

19. midge27

Posts: 46; Member since: Oct 19, 2014

Secure as in impossible to root/jailbreak? Or secure as in compliant with government organizations? You know, in the name of doing things like stopping terrorist attacks, eliminating organised crime etc. Not that I trust governments, but BlackBerry is clearly a market leader when it comes to denying hackers root access and compliant with government security requirements. Other android and ios devices are rootable. Bb10 nearly got legislated out of existence (before google/apple wiped them out anyway)

3. corsairgr

Posts: 11; Member since: Oct 08, 2017

and his wrong doing was? Please enlighten me, because I cannot see anything unlawful.

5. Alan01

Posts: 573; Member since: Mar 21, 2012

The complaint alleges that the company was selling phones to criminals, drug dealers and gangs. As a result, the company (according to the complaint) was created to assist criminal activity. Regards, Alan Friedman

11. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1195; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

So the whole case hinges on whether or not they can prove he knowingly participated in providing these criminals with those devices and services. Good luck with that. Plausible deniability, I'm sure he's familiar with.

12. Subie

Posts: 2295; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

I said in post 7 that there is more to these charges then him just customizing cell phones. Read the warrant papers that Alan was good enough to link to if you want more on what the charges are about. Vincent Ramos was involved in far more criminal activity then just Phantom Secure's "core" business. Racketeering, money laundering, gambling, and drug trafficking(cocaine). And thats coming from just the first few documents in the arrest warrant. I didn't even feel the need to read any more... https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4406486-Vincent-Ramos-Complaint.html

15. JohnKramer

Posts: 1; Member since: Mar 12, 2018

Alan, this article missed the main point The drug Cartels use many products to commit crimes as do others. How is it illegal to simply provide a private communicator the government can not illegal track us on. Have all you journalist lost your balls. Respectfully John

16. lozanro

Posts: 7; Member since: Aug 10, 2013

Criminals drink water too, so it's assisting them at surviving. Let's ban water :)

6. ZEUS.the.thunder.god

Posts: 1090; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

He was doing CIA and FBI`s job lol

7. Subie

Posts: 2295; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

Re-read the second paragraph. There's more to these charges then just customizing a few cell phones.

4. Derekjeter

Posts: 1455; Member since: Oct 27, 2011

It’s simple, the FBI gang, took down their competition. It’s just business in the world of drugs. FBI needs to know who’s moving in to their territory. Now he will work for them.

8. ZEUS.the.thunder.god

Posts: 1090; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

That`s actually true worldwide. Every single agency works in collaboration with criminals and mafia. They`re allotted a quota to commit crimes by these agencies.

10. GreenMan

Posts: 2694; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

Ah! Might as well just buy a cheap 'potato phone' from Amazon and take out the microphone. Voila! I don't think one can hack a dumb phone with an unknown OS, unknown origins and unknown hardware. Oh well... G'Day!

13. zennacko unregistered

So... Now they have to be picky with their customers too? If I'm selling something, all I care about is whether or not I'm being paid with counterfeit money, I couldn't care less if the secure phones are being used by the president or by Chapo Guzman. Now what's next? Getting names, addresses and SSNs of every single user/buyer of secure phones? That would be bad for business.

14. NewroticSlob

Posts: 181; Member since: May 09, 2013

It comes down to if he knowingly sold these to criminals, which will lead to him being charged with aiding and abetting. If I give a ride to someone I know is running from the law, I'm in trouble. It's that simple. Either way, it'll get fleshed out in court.

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