Man FBI arrested in Bellingham for selling encrypted phones to criminals sentenced

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A Canadian man who sold encrypted Blackberry smartphones to criminals worldwide that enabled them to sell drugs and even plan murders while avoiding the prying eyes of law enforcement was sentenced Tuesday, May 29, to nine years in prison.

Vincent Ramos, 41, of Richmond, B.C., was sentenced Tuesday in federal court in San Diego. He pleaded guilty last fall to one count of racketeering conspiracy.

Ramos also was told to forfeit $80 million in earnings, which included homes, international bank account holdings, cryptocurrency and gold coins.

“Vincent Ramos is going to prison because he provided violent, drug trafficking organizations with a high-tech tool that enabled them to coordinate their crimes while staying in the shadows,” U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said in a news release Tuesday. “Ramos’s system is down permanently now. He has forfeited his wealth, and he is going to prison for nearly a decade. We will continue to investigate and prosecute these individuals, whether they are the ones transporting and selling drugs, or providing the tools to those who do.”

Ramos was arrested by the FBI March 28, 2018, while eating breakfast alone at the Over Easy restaurant in Bellingham.

“He seemed like a mellow guy. There were no guns involved. … It was very professional,” restaurant owner Jamie Bohnett told The Bellingham Herald at the time. “He didn’t seem like a bad guy. He was real nice, gentle guy and quiet.”

Ramos ran a company called Phantom Secure that offered gutted, uncrackable smartphones that, for a subscription, could send encrypted text messages through a secure network based in Panama and Hong Kong.

The company also could wipe the phones remotely if they were seized.

Prosecutors said Ramos’ clients included the Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico and a global drug-trafficking and illicit gambling organization run by former University of Southern California football player Owen Hanson. Hanson is serving a 21-year prison sentence. Other clients were Hells Angels in Australia who used them to coordinate several killings, authorities said.

At least 7,000 of the phones were sold.

“The scope of this case is staggering,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Young said, calling Ramos’ clients “some of the most sophisticated criminals in the world using some of the most sophisticated technology in the world.”

The Bellingham Herald contributed to this story.