CEO who sold encrypted phones to drug traffickers gets 9 years in prison

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SAN DIEGO — The CEO of a Canada-based telecommunications retailer was sentenced to nine years in federal prison Tuesday for providing encrypted cell phones and other infrastructure services to international drug traffickers.

U.S. District Judge William Hayes also ordered Vincent Ramos, CEO of Phantom Secure, to forfeit $80 million in illicit profits he had stashed in international bank accounts, real estate, cryptocurrency accounts and gold coins.

Federal prosecutors estimated that at least 7,000 Phantom Secure devices — billed as impervious to decryption and wiretapping — were in use when Ramos was arrested.

“The amount of drugs Phantom Secure aided and abetted in transporting by providing devices and services to criminals worldwide was too high calculate,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Phantom Secure routinely deleted and destroyed evidence from devices it knew had been seized by law enforcement, according to prosecutors. When an investigation into a 2014 gang murder was stymied, Ramos boasted that the suspects had been using Phantom Secure devices to coordinate the killing, prosecutors said.

“It is the highest level of authority confirming our effectiveness,” Ramos wrote, according to court documents. “It can’t get better than that.”

The case marks the first time federal prosecutors have targeted a company and convicted its chief executive for helping criminal organizations with encrypted technology, federal prosecutors said.

“Vincent Ramos is going to prison because he provided violent, drug trafficking organizations with a high tech tool that enabled them to coordinate their crimes while staying in the shadows,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “Ramos’ system is down permanently now. He has forfeited his wealth, and he is going to prison for nearly a decade. We will continue to investigate and prosecute these individuals, whether they are the ones transporting and selling drugs, or providing the tools to those who do.”

Four co-defendants — Kim Augustus Rodd, Younes Nasri, Michael Gamboa and Christopher Poquiz — remain at large.

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