Cellphone fraudsters sentenced to prison

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) says a US federal court in West Palm Beach, Fl., has sentenced the owner and operator of a Florida-based telecommunications company to 75 months in prison and his co-conspirator, a resident of the Bronx, to 36 months in prison in connection with a sophisticated global cellphone fraud scheme linked to the Caribbean.

The DOJ said the scheme involved compromising cellphone customers’ accounts and “cloning” their phones to make fraudulent international calls.

Ramon Batista, 50, the owner and operator of Arymyx Inc., earlier pleaded guilty before Senior US 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.

He also pleaded guilty to 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, the DOJ said.

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, the DOJ said.

It said 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, the DOJ said.

It said 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, the DOJ said Batista admitted that he sent or received 1,132 “lines,” that is, combinations of telecommunications identifying numbers for specific devices or accounts associated with US cellphone customers, and that the fraudulent use of these “lines” caused almost US$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, the DOJ said Calderon admitted that he sent or received about 1,408 “lines” and was personally responsible for more than US$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, the DOJ said. 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.

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