Phantom Secure boss arrested in US for allegedly supplying encrypted phones to criminal organisations

THE head of a US firm is believed to have supplied phones to criminal organisations which could have links to at least two Aussie underworld murders.

The murder of bikie Tyrone Slemnik was organised through the use of phone encryption, detectives believe.

The murder of bikie Tyrone Slemnik was organised through the use of phone encryption, detectives believe.

THE boss of a company that allegedly supplied encrypted phones to criminal organisations with possible links to at least two Australian underworld murders has been arrested in the United States.

Chief executive of Phantom Secure, Vincent Ramos, was charged by the FBI for racketeering activity involving gambling, money laundering and drug trafficking after a joint operation between law enforcement agencies in the US, Australia and other countries.

The company allegedly installed encryption software and removed the camera, microphone, GPS navigation and other features from BlackBerry devices to help organised crime groups avoid detection from law enforcement.

Phantom’s international client base reached Australia, with the encrypted devices believed to have been used in planning the murders of Sydney Hells Angels member Tyrone Slemnik in 2013, and drug cook and Hells Angels associate Roy Yaghi in 2012.

No allegations of wrongdoing have been made against the manufacturers of BlackBerries.

Allegations regarding the inner workings of Phantom and its links to transnational organised crime were revealed to the FBI when it managed to turn a drug trafficker into a “co-operating witness” after he was arrested in September 2015.

An affidavit by an FBI investigator, which was attached to the arrest warrant for Mr Ramos, revealed witness CW-1 confessed his drug trafficking organisation moved hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Mexico through the US, with Canada and Australia the intended final destinations.

The affidavit explained encrypted devices were used in 2015 by CW-1 and his “Australian conspirators” to co-ordinate a shipment of 10kg of cocaine from the US, which was later seized by Australian Border Force.

On another occasion, CW-1 had arranged 5kg of methamphetamine to be delivered to Australia, not knowing the person he was dealing with was actually an undercover agent.

A year later, Australian Federal Police communicated with an unknown person in Los Angeles using a Phantom Secure device they had seized from a local resident who was arrested for drug smuggling. The LA contact successfully packaged and shipped 16kg of cocaine to Australia which was intercepted in September 2016.

Special Agent Nicholas Cheviron — the FBI employee who wrote the affidavit — believes there are approximately 10,000 Phantom Secure devices in Australia. A surprisingly high number given his estimates of only 20,000 existing worldwide.

The affidavit reveals that Phantom Secure ran its services through encrypted servers in Panama as it “does not co-operate with any other country’s inquiries”.

To further improve the security, Special Agent Cheviron said existing customer were forced to vouch for any clients, who were also forced to undergo background checks.

n its annual general report two years ago, the NSW Crime Commission said criminal gangs had been using encrypted BlackBerries, supplied by companies such as Phantom Secure.

The NSW Crime Commission added encrypted phones were a fundamental tool for contract killings.

“The ability to raise vast amounts of cash enables organised crime groups to source weapons and employ persons prepared to undertake murder for profit,” the commission’s 2015-16 annual report said.

A NSW police officer said the recent bust would slow down organised crime, but wouldn’t fix the problem for good.

“Murders, bashings and drug importations are all organised on these BlackBerries. This will hurt them for a while. Then they will find another source,” the officer said, reported the Daily Telegraph.