Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joshua Mellor (619) 546-9733 and Mark W. Pletcher (619) 546-9714
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – December 14, 2020
SAN DIEGO – Four bank accounts containing $3,971,468.40 in illicit funds generated from Phantom Secure, an encrypted telecommunications network used by transnational organized criminal syndicates, were seized by authorities in Singapore and repatriated to the United States, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California announced today.
Vincent Ramos, the chief executive of Canada-based Phantom Secure, and four of his associates were indicted by a federal grand jury in March 2018 on charges that they operated a criminal enterprise that facilitated the transnational importation and distribution of narcotics through the sale and service of encrypted telecommunications devices and services.
This was the first time the U.S. government targeted a company and its principals for conspiring with criminal organizations by providing them with the technological tools to evade law enforcement and obstruct justice while committing transnational drug trafficking.
According to court documents, Phantom Secure advertised its products as impervious to decryption, wiretapping or legal third-party records requests. Phantom Secure also guaranteed the destruction of evidence contained within a device if it was compromised, either by an informant or because it fell into the hands of law enforcement.
Starting in 2018, U.S. authorities, working closely with the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) of the Singapore Police Force, identified and seized over $3.9 million in illicit funds linked to the sale of Phantom Secure devices. Those funds were seized in Singapore, forfeited as proceeds of criminal activity and have now been repatriated to the United States.
In October 2018, Ramos pleaded guilty 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 Australia, Canada, Europe, Mexico, Thailand and the United States 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’ customers used his products to devastating and sometimes deadly effect, and Ramos used this to market his encryption services to criminals across the world. According to court documents, in response to a March 5, 2014 news article that reported investigations of a gangland murder were stymied because the suspects used Phantom Secure devices to coordinate the killing, Ramos wrote, “This is the best verification on what we have been saying all along – proven and effective for now over nine years. It is the highest level of authority confirming our effectiveness. It can’t get better than that.”
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. The money repatriated from Singapore was among the assets identified by investigators to be forfeited. Ramos was sentenced to 108 months in prison.
“Tremendous determination by this office and our investigative partners dismantled this criminal network,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “As a result of this ground-breaking prosecution, the network has been shut down, its founder has been brought to justice, and its money is being identified and forfeited to help victims and witnesses of crime.” Brewer praised prosecutors Mark Pletcher and Joshua Mellor as well as agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Marshals Service for their excellent work on this case.
The Department of Justice specifically commends the efforts of our Singapore counterparts in identifying, freezing, and repatriating proceeds of this criminal enterprise. Investigators with the Commercial Affairs Department and representatives of the Attorney General’s Chamber worked relentlessly to ensure that these proceeds would not be used to promote further illegal activity.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California further notes the invaluable assistance of the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.
“The repatriation of close to $4 million by our Singapore-based partners ensures that Vincent Ramos and the leaders of Phantom Secure will pay for their crimes,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner. “The FBI’s unrelenting work to take down transnational criminal organizations like Phantom Secure and recoup their illegal financial gains is only possible through close working relationships with our global law enforcement partners.”
“This case demonstrates the U.S. Marshals’ firm commitment to tracing illicit funds and dismantling criminal enterprises worldwide,” said Assistant Director Timothy Virtue of the U.S. Marshals Asset Forfeiture Division. “We express our gratitude to our Singapore counterparts for their unflinching cooperation in clamping down on transnational organized criminal syndicates and money launderers.”
This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Drug Enforcement Administration
U.S. Marshals Service
Singapore Police Force – Commercial Affairs Department
Singapore Attorney-General’s Chambers
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 Department of Justice, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces
Office of Enforcement Operations of the Department’s Criminal Division
Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs