Criminal charges were unsealed against multiple defendants relating to their participation in a sophisticated global cell phone fraud scheme, involving the takeover or compromise of cell phone customers’ accounts and the “cloning” of their phones to make fraudulent international calls.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.
Ramon Batista, aka Porfirio, 49, of Orlando, Florida; Edwin Fana, 36, of Miami Gardens, Florida; and Jose Santana, aka Octavio Perez, 52, of Royal Palm Beach, Florida, made their initial appearances in court this week after being arrested or self-surrendering. Batista, Fana and Santana were each charged in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida with 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 additional counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
According to the indictment, the defendants and their co-conspirators participated in a scheme to steal access to and fraudulently open new cell phone accounts using the personal information of individuals around the United States. The conspirators then trafficked in the cell phone customers’ telecommunication identifying information, using that data as well as other software and hardware to reprogram cell phones that they controlled to transmit thousands of international calls to Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and other countries with high calling rates. The calls were billed to the victims’ compromised accounts.
Moreover, according to allegations in the indictment, as part of the scheme, the conspirators used the reprogrammed cell phones and additional telecommunications equipment to run illegal call-termination businesses—contracting with calling card companies, Voice over Internet Protocol providers and other telecommunications companies nationwide—in which the defendants routed international calls for payment and then transmitted those calls through the reprogrammed phones without paying for access to the phone companies’ networks. In so doing, they pushed costs from themselves to cell phone customers around the country and those customers’ cell phone providers, which typically absorbed the costs for the fraudulent international calls, according to the indictment.
The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
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 are prosecuting the case.