Saturday, February 22, 2020

Florida Duo Sentenced to Prison for International Cellphone Fraud Scheme

West Palm Beach, Fla. (FBI) – A federal court in West Palm Beach, Florida, today sentenced the owner and operator of a Florida-based telecommunications company to 75 months in prison and his co-conspirator, a resident of Bronx, New York to 36 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. 

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg of the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.  

Ramon Batista, 50, the owner and operator of Arymyx Inc., earlier pleaded guilty before Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley in the Southern District of Florida 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, as well as one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Batista’s co-conspirator, Farintong Calderon, 38, pleaded guilty to the same count of conspiracy.  

According to the plea agreements, Batista, Calderon 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 and others also operated “call sites” in South Florida and elsewhere, where they would receive telecommunications identifying information associated with customers’ accounts from Calderon and additional 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 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 Arymyx; acting as a “call site operator” which involved maintaining and re-programming cellphones through which he routed 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. Moreover, 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, and that the fraudulent use of these “lines” caused almost $800,000 in losses to Sprint and Verizon.  

In addition, Calderon admitted that he was a “line supplier” based in New York City, who provided stolen or compromised telecommunications identifying information to Batista and other co-conspirators in Florida and elsewhere. Among other things, Calderon admitted that he sent or received about 1,408 “lines” and was personally responsible for more than $250,000 in losses resulting from the scheme. 

Batista and Calderon are the third and fourth defendants to be sentenced in the case by Senior Judge Hurley. Edwin Fana was sentenced on Dec. 22, 2016, to 48 months in prison and Jose Santana was sentenced on Jan. 4, 2017, to 52 months in prison.

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 prosecuted the case. 

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