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Owner of Vancouver encryption company trafficked drugs, aided cartel, U.S. says

The owner of a Vancouver company that sells encrypted BlackBerrys popular with B.C. gangsters is facing charges in the U.S. of racketeering, conspiracy and drug trafficking. Vincent Ramos, who started Phantom Secure in 2008, is even alleged in U.S.
U.S. law enforcement agencies allege that Vancouver company Phantom Secure was set up to help organized crime.


The owner of a Vancouver company that sells encrypted BlackBerrys popular with B.C. gangsters is facing charges in the U.S. of racketeering, conspiracy and drug trafficking.

Vincent Ramos, who started Phantom Secure in 2008, is even alleged in U.S. court documents to have sold his specialized devices to “some members of the (Mexican) Sinaloa (drug) cartel.”

Ramos, 41, was arrested in the U.S. on Wednesday, as police in Metro Vancouver raided his business and home.

U.S. court documents obtained by Postmedia allege he set up his company a decade ago specifically to help international drug trafficking organizations evade police and now has more than 20,000 of his encrypted devices circulating around the world.

“According to law enforcement sources in Australia, Canada and the United States, Phantom Secure devices are used by the upper echelon of various transnational criminal organizations to communicate with their criminal compatriots and conduct the illegal activities of the organization,” FBI special agent Nicholas Cheviron says in the court documents.

“These law enforcement sources all report that they are unaware of any law enforcement partner that has identified even a single legitimate Phantom Secure user.”

The documents said: “Phantom Secure’s devices and service were specifically designed to prevent law enforcement from intercepting and monitoring communication on the network, and every facet of Phantom Secure’s corporate structure was set up specifically to facilitate criminal activity and to impede, obstruct and evade law enforcement.”

B.C. corporate documents list Ramos as president and sole director of Phantom Secure.

The U.S. alleges Ramos, Phantom Secure and others whose names are blacked out engaged in “a pattern of racketeering activity involving gambling, money laundering and drug trafficking.”

And Ramos is also alleged to have “knowingly and intentionally conspired with other persons to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.”

The investigation into the Vancouver company appears to date back to at least 2015 and has involved the RCMP, police in Australia, and the FBI.

That year, the RCMP had undercover officers pose as drug traffickers to purchase devices from Phantom Secure, Cheviron said in his court affidavit.

“During the vetting process, an undercover agent asked the Phantom Secure representative if it is safe to send messages that explicitly discussed drug trafficking, using the following examples ‘cocaine coming up,’ ‘sending MDMA to Montreal,’” Cheviron said.

“Phantom Secure’s employee replied that speaking explicitly was ‘totally fine’ because the servers were ‘based in Panama’ and ‘no one has access to our servers.’”

The RCMP undercover officers later pretended an associate had been arrested and asked Phantom Secure to delete his BlackBerry remotely.

“So he picked up the load (of drugs) and I think he’s been arrested. There is a lot of f–kin’ sh-t on my BlackBerry,” the purported trafficker said.

The employee confirmed with the undercover officer: “You wanna wipe both of them?”

“Yes,” he replied, calling the worker a “lifesaver.”

Ramos has not faced any charges in B.C.

Undercover officers also met Ramos in Las Vegas a year ago and “posed as high-ranking members of a transnational drug trafficking organization seeking secure communications and data deletion services to facilitate an expansion of their drug trafficking activities in South America and Europe.”

“Ramos explained that Phantom Secure  was built specifically for the purpose of facilitated drug trafficking,” the documents said.

When the officers said they might need the GPS function on the phones if they had to kill an associate believed to be cooperating with police, Ramos responded: “Right, right, right, right.”

Phantom Secure boasts in its advertising that “the advantages of having our server and a portion of our business located in Panama” is that “Panama does not cooperate with any other countries’ inquiries.”

“Panama does not consider tax evasion a crime and as such does not help other countries in their investigations.”

The U.S. documents also said “to further conceal the location of its key and mail servers, Phantom Secure cloaks them in multiple layers of virtual proxy networks.”

Phantom Secure doesn’t allow just anyone to become a client. New customers have to get a “vouch” from an existing client, the documents say.

“I believe the purpose of the vouch requirement is to prevent law enforcement from penetrating Phantom Secure’s network,” Cheviron said.

The Vancouver company charges between $2,000 and $3,000 US for a six-month subscription.

“Phantom Secure guarantees that messages stored on its devices can be and will be remotely deleted by Phantom Secure if the device is seized by law enforcement or otherwise compromised.”

The documents indicate American authorities have several cooperating witnesses or “CWs” in the case against Ramos.

The first, CW-1, was arrested in September 2015 as he coordinated a shipment of more than 135 kilograms of cocaine from Los Angeles to Canada.

He told police his criminal organization worked with the Sinaloa cartel to get cocaine for Canada.

“CW-1 stated that over the course of several years, his drug trafficking organization moved hundreds of kilos of cocaine per month from Mexico through to the United States, ultimately destined for Canada and Australia. CW-1 used a Phantom Secure device to facilitate each of these transactions,” the documents said.

After his arrest, Phantom Secure tried to wipe his BlackBerry, but failed.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau refused to comment on the RCMP’s role in the investigation, except to confirm officers had been involved in executing search warrants in Metro Vancouver.

“All I can say at this point is that the RCMP is working as an assist to another police department. The B.C. warrants are currently sealed so we don’t have any information to share with you at this time,” she said.

Ramos appeared in Federal Court in Seattle on Thursday and was ordered detained pending his transfer to San Diego, where he will stand trial.