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The Network: How a Secretive Phone Company Helped the Crime World Go Dark

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Everyone crammed into the Las Vegas hotel suite was asleep except for Vince Ramos. The Wynn luxury hotel, with its indoor gardens, seafood restaurants, and extravagant shopping, had been this group’s world for the past few days, with law enforcement officials from the U.S., Canada, and Australia grilling Ramos. Four or five officials lay down after another session of questioning their suspect.

Ramos had short breaks to see his wife and one of his children, who were staying in their own room nearby. Fearing he wouldn’t be able to see his family if he didn’t do so, Ramos spoke at length with the agents. Ramos looked like a ghost during those breaks when his family saw him, they said.

His trip to Vegas had been a setup.

He’d traveled to meet an associate as part of his multi-million dollar business, selling encrypted phones under the brand name Phantom Secure. Phantom’s customized BlackBerry phones used dedicated software designed to make an ordinary wiretap impossible. The associate and Ramos planned to attend a fight in Vegas. But instead, the FBI were waiting and cornered Ramos, dangling charges above his head usually reserved for taking down mob bosses. Biker gangs in Australia, drug traffickers in California, and even members of the Sinaloa Cartel all used Phantom’s phones. Rather than treat Phantom as an innocent third party to crime like Apple or Google when criminals use phones made by those companies, authorities said Ramos himself was part of criminal conspiracies. The agents had Ramos on tape suggesting he made the phones to help drug smugglers. On the other side of that hotel room door, when the agents finally stopped asking their questions, there was likely a long prison sentence.

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Illustration: Rebekka Dunlap

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Click the link below for the article:

https://www.vice.com/en/article/v7m4pj/the-network-vincent-ramos-phantom-secure

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