An L.A. triple-murder suspect was tried in China, and his case could open the door for similar prosecutions

Walt Teague had given up hope of making an arrest in the Koreatown triple murder.The suspect, Tai Zhi Cui, had fled Los Angeles for his native China, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

  A photo of Tai Zhi Cui in the LAPD's files on a Koreatown triple murder.  (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A photo of Tai Zhi Cui in the LAPD's files on a Koreatown triple murder. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

If Chinese police would confirm that Cui was indeed in China, Teague could at least close the almost decade-old case. In a cavernous room off Tiananmen Square, he met with nearly two dozen Chinese police officials.

The highest-ranking officer then made an unexpected offer to Teague, a Los Angeles Police Department lieutenant: "We're very interested in trying him in our courts."

Late last year, Cui was found guilty by a panel of three Chinese judges. There has been no word from China on his punishment.

American crimes, Chinese trials: Here's how it works »

Teague and other American authorities said they would have preferred to prosecute Cui in the U.S. but believed that working with the Chinese was better than letting him go free. They believe he was treated fairly, they said.

The Chinese legal system, however, has a reputation for coerced confessions, speedy executions and politically motivated arrests. Many trials are not public, and court files are generally not available for public review. In the U.S., Cui's trial would have likely lasted weeks. In China, it took 90 minutes.

Chinese prosecutors appear to have made significant use of evidence the LAPD handed over. The cooperation was approved by L.A. County prosecutors, who weighed concerns about China's judicial system against the violent nature of Cui's crimes. It is unclear what role federal officials played in the decision.

The Times examined the Cui case and two others in which a defendant was prosecuted in China for a crime committed on American soil. The cases are among the first of their kind and could open the door for similar prosecutions, especially in Southern California, with its large Chinese immigrant population.

"The U.S. doesn't want to say, 'No way, no how, we never cooperate,' " said Margaret Lewis, a professor at Seton Hall Law School who researches China's criminal justice system. "But once we open the door for that … where do we draw the line?"

Investigators quickly zeroed in on Cui after a man walked into a Koreatown restaurant in October 2006 and blasted execution-style shots into the heads of three people: one of the restaurant's owners, an employee and the employee's boyfriend.

Cui had dated the employee, Kyung Hee Kang, in what was later described to police as a volatile relationship.

Hours before the murders, Cui argued with Kang and her new boyfriend, Seong Ung Kim. When Cui returned, he confronted the couple and the co-owner, Jae Woong Cho.

Investigators found the blood-spattered murder weapon in Cui's apartment. By then, Cui, then 55, had fled to Mexico. His trail went cold for two years, until a Koreatown businessman contacted the LAPD.

The man had recently been to Shenyang, Cui's hometown in China. He had read about the murders in the Koreatown press and thought Cui might have been the cab driver who picked him up from the airport.

It seemed plausible to Greg Stearns, lead investigator on the case. Detectives had long suspected that Cui might return to China. He had also driven a bandit cab in L.A.

The LAPD reached out to Chinese authorities, hoping to verify that Cui was in Shenyang. The LAPD asked the U.S. Marshals Service for help, then the FBI.

No response from China.

"It was radio silence for several years," Stearns said.

  LAPD Det. Greg Stearns, left, and Lt. Walt Teague investigated a 2006 triple murder that happened in L.A. but was ultimately prosecuted last year in China.  (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

LAPD Det. Greg Stearns, left, and Lt. Walt Teague investigated a 2006 triple murder that happened in L.A. but was ultimately prosecuted last year in China. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Teague, the lieutenant, had deep connections to China. He studied in Beijing in the mid-1980s and met his wife there, earning a master's degree in Chinese before becoming a cop.

He went to China once a year to see his in-laws. Why not try to meet with Chinese police and ask if Cui was there?

In 2014, using the FBI as a go-between, Teague made a last-ditch effort.

This time, the Chinese responded.

A few months after his first meeting in Beijing, Teague returned, along with Stearns and Joy Roberts, an L.A. County prosecutor who outlined the case to Chinese officials, much as if she were making a closing argument in an American courtroom.

The Americans described some of the evidence they had gathered: Cui's fingerprint and a victim's blood on the murder weapon, as well as casings from the same gun outside the restaurant.

After arresting Cui, the Chinese visited L.A., touring the murder scene and watching as LAPD detectives reinterviewed key witnesses. The Americans sent the gun, DNA and other physical evidence to China before returning themselves to observe Cui's interrogation by Chinese officers.

Cui initially admitted to the killings, then recanted and named other people he said actually pulled the trigger. Stearns spent weeks trying to find those people, he said, only to learn they didn't exist.

"This was no quick kangaroo court," Teague said.

In late October 2017, with only a few days' notice, the L.A team hurriedly returned to Shenyang for the trial.

Cui confessed to the killings, the officials said. His attorney argued that he was drunk and angry over a debt that his ex-girlfriend supposedly owed him.

  The handgun used by Tai Zhi Cui in a 2006 triple murder in L.A.  (Los Angeles Police Department)

The handgun used by Tai Zhi Cui in a 2006 triple murder in L.A. (Los Angeles Police Department)

The Chinese legal system draws on many traditions, including those of countries such as France and Germany, where trials are sometimes decided by a three-judge panel and the role of attorneys is less central than in the American system.

Experts on Chinese law say that reforms in recent decades have provided defendants with more protections. But the system still heavily favors the prosecution.

Judges answer to the Communist Party, making the process inherently political. Concerns about torture and coerced confessions remain, especially when the defendant is charged with a political crime. And the conviction rate is extraordinarily high — in recent years, fewer than 1% of defendants have been acquitted at trial.

The vast majority of Chinese defendants go to trial without a lawyer, though publicly funded lawyers are usually provided for defendants facing the most serious charges, including murder.

Cui had an attorney at his trial. But Times reporters in the U.S. and Beijing were not able to obtain the lawyer's name or documents related to the case — information that is readily accessible in U.S. courts.

The L.A. County district attorney's office considered the fact that the victims' families had no other recourse before greenlighting the collaboration, spokesman Greg Risling said.

"Our job is to pursue justice, no matter how much time has passed or how far the distance may be," Risling said. "Our office exhausted all possible remedies, and we felt this decision would ultimately result in a conviction."

Because of the multiple victims, Cui could have faced the death penalty had he been tried in the U.S., according to Roberts, the L.A. County prosecutor.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. State Department declined to comment about whether their agencies were involved in the case.

Authorities in Shenyang either declined to discuss the case or did not return calls seeking comment. In a written statement, a spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles said that China has "complete judicial jurisdiction" over its citizens who are accused of committing crimes abroad. Teague, whose Mandarin was good enough to understand the proceedings, watched Cui's trial from the courtroom. Stearns and Roberts were in another room with interpreters, keeping tabs through a live video feed.

The conclusion — and seeing Cui face-to-face — was satisfying for Teague, who once thought the case would end without a trial, he said.

"When he walked in, he saw me as a representative of justice here," Teague, who is now retired, said of Cui. "He didn't get away with it. You can't kill three people like that and get away with it."

Times staff writers Jessica Meyers and Nicole Liu in Beijing and Victoria Kim in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

China leaned on Hong Kong not to hand fugitive to U.S., State Department says

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department said Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, rejected a request last year to surrender a fugitive into the custody of the United States, at China’s behest.


The U.S. report did not name the fugitive, or detail the crime, but Hong Kong media said the individual was Iat Hong, a computer hacker and Macau resident charged by U.S. authorities with stealing confidential information from U.S. law firms and trading on it for profit.

Reuters was unable to immediately trace contact details for Hong.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong gave no further details when contacted by Reuters, and declined to confirm if the individual was Iat Hong.

Hong’s rejected extradition request, however, was mentioned in a U.S. Department of Justice letter this year in a separate graft case involving a former senior Hong Kong official, Patrick Ho.

Hong’s “lengthy, cumbersome extradition application” was rejected after nearly 10 months of proceedings in Hong Kong, the letter said.“Hong ... has not been - and it appears never will be - extradited,” it added.

Lam’s office, and the Department of Justice, declined to make any immediate comment.

Pro-democracy lawmaker James To said the case undermined public confidence in Hong Kong’s autonomy and urged the city’s leader to explain the decision.

Young people in Hong Kong have expressed frustration at the perceived creeping influence of Communist Party rulers in Beijing over the city’s culture and freedoms.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said she had no specific understanding of the case, but stressed China fully supported Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” arrangement.

However the U.S. report had made “irresponsible comments” and China was resolutely opposed to it, the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, told a regular media briefing.

The U.S. report also mentioned signs of overreach by Chinese authorities in Hong Kong.

“Central government authorities ... issued public statements that diluted the concept of ‘high degree of autonomy’ and the freedoms contemplated in the Basic Law,” it said, referring to the city’s mini-constitution.

Hong Kong leader denies handing fugitive to mainland China against US request

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has denied surrendering any fugitives to mainland China after a US State Department report said she did so “at the behest” of the central government last October.

  Chief Executive Carrie Lam

Chief Executive Carrie Lam

The US report said Hong Kong released the detainee in question into Beijing’s custody on the basis that the central government was pursuing a separate criminal action. It said it was the first time the city has refused a US extradition request since the Handover in 1997.

But a statement issued by Lam’s office on Thursday night said it “deeply regrets” the claim. It said there is currently no surrender of fugitive offenders arrangement between Hong Kong and the mainland.

“Therefore, no surrender of a fugitive has ever been made to the Mainland,” the statement said. “The HKSAR Government deals with any movement of persons in and out of Hong Kong in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong.”

Lam’s office declined to discuss individual cases in public, but said all requests for the surrender of fugitive offenders are processed strictly in accordance with Hong Kong laws and the agreement with the US government.

Lam’s office said when a request is received, a decision on whether to issue authority to proceed – on the advice of the Department of Justice – rests solely and entirely with the chief executive.

The statement from Lam’s office attached a list of seven exemptions under which Hong Kong can refuse an extradition request, but it did not state which was relevant to the case mentioned by the US report.

The fugitive in question was reportedly a hacker named Iat Hong, a Macau resident who was arrested in Hong Kong on December 25, 2016.

Hong, along with two others, allegedly hacked into two prominent New York-based law firms, gaining more than US$4 million (HK$31.4 million) in illegal profits.

Unnamed sources cited by i-Cable news confirmed that Hong’s case was the one mentioned in the US report. The sources said Hong does not have Hong Kong residency, and there were no orders from Beijing to hand him over.

The sources added that he was released in Hong Kong – instead of being sent to the mainland – and that Hong’s current whereabouts are unknown.

‘Legitimate explanations must be given’

Democratic Party lawmaker James To, who is the deputy chair of the legislature’s panel on security, said the statement from Lam’s office was technical but did not give an explanation as to why the extradition request was refused.

To said if the requested surrender was related to “defence, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy,” the central government can issue an instruction to refuse the surrender via the Foreign Ministry to the Hong Kong government, according to the agreement between Hong Kong and the US.

“If Carrie Lam replied that the request was refused because it was related to defence and foreign affairs – citing the instruction – foreign countries would accept that and would not ask about details,” To said.

He added that it would be a legitimate reason to refuse the US request if the fugitive committed more serious crimes in the mainland and China is conducting an investigation or a trial.

“If the Hong Kong government does not explain – under authorisation [from Beijing] – to an important international partner like the US, it will harm Hong Kong’s credibility in the international criminal system, or even harm confidence in the implementation of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ in Hong Kong,” To said.

B.C. encryption company CEO denied bail on U.S. racketeering charges.

The founder of a Vancouver encryption company alleged to have supplied untraceable BlackBerry devices to criminals around the world has been denied bail in southern California.


Vincent Ramos had argued at a detention hearing in San Diego last week that he was not a flight risk despite facing racketeering and trafficking charges that could land him in jail for life if convicted.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Barbara Lynn Major denied Ramos’ application to be released on a $500,000 US bond pending his trial.

Ramos founded Phantom Secure Communications in Vancouver in 2008. The company has since branched out to the U.S., Australia, Dubai, Panama, Hong Kong and Thailand. 

The U.S. government alleges Ramos and his company “knowingly and intentionally conspired with criminal organizations by providing them with the technological tools to evade law enforcement and obstruct justice.”

When Ramos was arrested last month, U.S. authorities said the charges were the first of their kind against a company and its principals for aiding international crime groups through technology.

U.S. court records allege Phantom sold up to 20,000 BlackBerry and other devices to crime groups, including the notorious Sinaloa cartel in Mexico.

But family and friends of Ramos paint a very different picture of the 40 year old in reference letters filed in support of his bail application.

They describe him as a doting father of four, a hard-working businessman, and flag football coach.

His sister-in-law Shellaine Vicera said: “Vince, as we call him, is one of the most generous, helpful, kind-spirited individuals I have ever met in my life.”

“I am so lucky to have a brother-in-law who is understanding and is always willing to give a helping hand. He is truly a family man, is loving, caring and is always supportive of his family and children in anything they wish to do,” she said.

His Vancouver accountant Ash Katey said he had done the taxes for Ramos and Phantom Secure for 10 years.

“I found him to be an earnest, well-mannered young businessman, prepared to work hard to make his business grow and willing to learn new things involved in the growth of his business,” Katey said. “He did not want to take any shortcuts to gain any extra advantage out of a tax situation.”

Patricia Mendoza said in her letter of support that “the nature of the offences is very surprising and shocking as I have always known Victor to be intelligent, personable, hard-working.”

Ramos’ lawyer Michael Pancer said in court documents filed for the bail hearing that Ramos’ wife was willing to put their Richmond house up as collateral for a $500,000 US bond to secure his release.

And Pancer said Ramos was prepared to lease an apartment in San Diego and wear a GPS monitor.

“It is important to note that Mr. Ramos has no prior criminal record. He finds himself in trouble with the law for the very first time. Those who know Mr. Ramos best have expressed shock at hearing of his arrest,” Pancer said.

“While Mr. Ramos would concede the nature of the allegations are serious, as in any federal offence, Mr. Ramos is not charged with any crimes of violence, any crimes involving weapons, or any crimes involving threats of injuries.”

He said Ramos is “an educated man with familial and employment stability and a history of respect for the law.”

Ramos was born in Winnipeg in 1977 and moved with his family to Richmond at age four. He attended Kwantlen for two years and studied business before embarking on a career selling Amway products, Pancer said. He then worked for Rogers Cellular before deciding to go into business for himself.

“In 2008, he purchased his own servers and hired a tech person to install them. Mr. Ramos purchased licenses that were commercially available and already in use in the industry. He created no encryption programs, but used only those already on the market,” Pancer said. “We understand the security devices were like ones being used by our own government on BlackBerrys they purchase.”

Ramos has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

He will be back in court May 7 to set a date for his trial.

Kim Bolan,Vancouver Sun.

(Four others linked to his company, including Canadians Younes Nasri, Michael Gamboa and Christopher Poquiz, are also charged and remain fugitives.)

B.C. CEO charged with conspiring to sell unhackable phones to criminals

VANCOUVER — A Vancouver businessman alleged to have sold encrypted BlackBerrys to international drug-trafficking organizations has been charged in the U.S.

 The United States has arrested the chief executive of Phantom Secure, a Canadian privacy and security firm, alleging the Vancouver-area resident has conspired to provide drug traffickers with modified BlackBerry smartphones to evade law enforcement. Screenshot from webpage of Vancouver company Phantom Secure.

The United States has arrested the chief executive of Phantom Secure, a Canadian privacy and security firm, alleging the Vancouver-area resident has conspired to provide drug traffickers with modified BlackBerry smartphones to evade law enforcement. Screenshot from webpage of Vancouver company Phantom Secure.

On Thursday, Vincent Ramos, who owns Phantom Secure, and four international associates were indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington for conspiring with global drug traffickers by providing encryption services to evade law enforcement.

Ramos and the four others — Kim Augustus Rodd, Younes Nasri, Michael Gamboa and Christopher Poquiz — are charged with participating in and aiding and abetting a racketeering enterprise and conspiring to import and distribute controlled substances around the world.

He was arrested in Bellingham, WA., two weeks ago and also faces racketeering, drug-trafficking, conspiracy and money-laundering charges in San Diego.

The U.S. alleges he sold 20,000 of his specialized devices, as well as access to his encrypted communication network, to organized crime groups around the world, including the deadly Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, headed by Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman.

Documents obtained by Postmedia show Ramos used shell companies and crypto currencies to allegedly launder “tens of millions” of dollars of his illicit profits. The latest indictment alleges Phantom Secure generated approximately $80 million in annual revenue since 2008.

This is the first time the U.S. government has targeted a company for conspiring with criminal organizations by providing them with the technological tools to evade law enforcement and obstruct justice, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the indictment sends a clear message that drug traffickers and criminals cannot hide, because they will “hunt them down and find them wherever they are.”

Ramos has made his first appearance in the Western District of Washington last week and will face charges in San Diego. The remaining four defendants are fugitives.

According to court documents, Phantom Secure advertised its products as impervious to decryption, wiretapping or legal third-party records requests. It’s also alleged that Phantom Secure guaranteed the destruction of evidence contained within a device if it was compromised, either by an informant or because it fell into the hands of law enforcement.

The international operation to arrest Ramos and seize Phantom Secure’s infrastructure involved authorities in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Panama, Hong Kong, and Thailand.

Over the past two weeks, in cooperation with Australian Federal Police and RCMP, more than 250 global agents conducted approximately 25 searches of houses and offices of Phantom Secure associates in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, and in Australia and Canada, seizing Phantom Secure devices, assets, and evidence of the charged crimes.

Australian authorities allege Phantom Secure was the first encrypted communication platform available on a wholesale scale in Australia, and was the largest single supplier to the Australian organised crime market.

Timothy O’Connor, executive director of the criminal investigations division of the New South Wales Crime Commission, says disruption of the Phantom Secure platform has been one of the most significant blows to organized crime in Australia.

CEO of smart mobile outfit Phantom Secure cuffed after cocaine sting, boast of murder-by-GPS

No 'legitimate users' of modded Blackberries, says FBI

 Screen shot of Phantom secures website

Screen shot of Phantom secures website

An arrest by US authorities last week has brought to light alleged associations between encrypted phone supplier Phantom Secure and international drug trafficking.

The arrest followed an Australian Federal Police bust of a cocaine shipment from the United States to Australia.

Rather than merely being a passive supplier of phones, the affidavit attached to the arrest warrant for Phantom Secure's CEO Vincent Ramos, a Canadian resident, claimed he participated in drug deals facilitated by encrypted communications, and that the company's phones are used exclusively to evade law enforcement.

Ramos is charged with RICO violations (that is, racketeering) and drug trafficking. Others were named in the arrest warrant, but their names have been redacted.

According to the affidavit (PDF), the phones Phantom Secure supplied to the drug dealers were extensively modified after they left BlackBerry: they're only capable of running PGP-encrypted email, with VPN connections to servers in Panama and Hong Kong. All this is expensive: the phones are sold with a US$2,000 to $3,000 six-month subscription.

The phones are sold only through personal contact – someone wanting one of the devices needs a personal introduction from an existing customer. If they fell into the wrong hands, the FBI learned, they could be remote-wiped by Phantom Secure.

The FBI claimed the operation generated “tens of millions of dollars” by “facilitating the crimes of transnational criminal organisations and protecting those organisations from detection”.

The company sold around 20,000, the document states, and a surprising 10,000 of those were used in Australia.

In Australia the phones have been linked with organised crime for some time. In March 2017 local media reported the 2014 discovery of a cache of the phones during a drug investigation.

The anonymity of Phantom Secure users proved part of the operation's undoing. An Australian Federal Police agent began operating a Phantom Secure phone it had seized from another drug dealer without being spotted as an imposter. They communicated with a Los Angeles dealer to arrange a 10 kilogram cocaine shipment to Australia in 2016.

The FBI special agent who wrote the affidavit, Nicholas Cheviron, cites contact with law enforcement in Canada and Australia, and wrote that no law enforcement partner “has identified even a single legitimate Phantom Secure user”.

The agent also related a meeting between undercover agents and Ramos, in which he said the phones were designed to facilitate drug trafficking.

There's a curious contradiction in the affidavit that suggests Phantom Secure might not have been completely honest even with its criminal customers. In describing how the phones are made (presumably from documents obtained from the company), Cheviron's affidavit said:

When Phantom Secure receives the BlackBerry handsets, its technical team removes the hardware and software responsible for all external architecture, including voice communication, microphone, GPS navigation, camera, Internet and Messenger service [emphasis added]

However, in reported discussions with Ramos, it seems GPS capability is left intact, with very sinister intent. After Ramos said the primary vulnerability is an informant, an undercover agent said GPS helped "locate and kill the informant". Ramos response: "Yeah, it does". ®

Canadian CEO charged with conspiring to sell unhackable phones to criminals

The United States has arrested and charged the chief executive of cybersecurity firm Phantom Secure, alleging the Vancouver-area businessman has conspired to provide drug traffickers with modified BlackBerry smartphones to evade law enforcement.

 Screenshot of Phantom Secure website.

Screenshot of Phantom Secure website.

Vincent Ramos of Richmond, B.C., was arrested March 7 in Bellingham, Wash., near Seattle, and faces criminal charges filed with a U.S. district court in San Diego, Calif. Those records are sealed.

The U.S. Justice Department announced the charges Thursday following a years-long undercover operation that included several American, Australian and Canadian agencies including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Authorities continue to seek four other suspects from various countries.

They allege that Phantom Secure, which bills itself as "the world's most trusted communication service," advertised its products as impervious to decryption and guaranteed that evidence on a device could be destroyed remotely if it was compromised.

The Department of Justice said the case is the first time the U.S. government has targeted a company and its principals "for knowingly and intentionally conspiring with criminal organizations by providing them with the technological tools to evade law enforcement and obstruct justice while committing transnational drug trafficking."

The Canadian Press hasn't been able to contact Ramos or his lawyer for comment. None of the charges against Ramos have yet been proven in court.

However, the Phantom Secure website has a notice that says it's a "law-abiding company" that was founded to provide businesses and people the opportunity to communicate in private in this modern technological age.

Ramos faces charges of racketeering conspiracy, also known as RICO conspiracy, and conspiracy to aid the distribution of narcotics. Both carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.

A partially blacked-out affidavit by an FBI special agent and attached to the warrant to arrest Ramos, alleges that Phantom Secure devices and services were "specifically designed to prevent law enforcement from intercepting and monitoring communication" and its corporate structure was set up to "obstruct, impede, and evade law enforcement."

It alleges the company's marketing material promotes Phantom Secure's technical team modifies BlackBerry handsets by removing the microphone, GPS navigation, camera, internet and messenger service and then installs encryption software on an email program routed to servers in countries such as Panama.

"According to law enforcement sources in Australia, Canada and the United States, Phantom Secure devices are used by the upper echelon members of various transnational criminal organizations to communicate with their criminal compatriots and conduct the illegal activities of the organization," the affidavit said.

The affidavit also includes a transcript of an exchange between an undercover RCMP agent posing as a drug trafficker and an unidentified Phantom Secure employee who wiped supposedly incriminating data from a modified BlackBerry.

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. 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.

Vancouver man laundered 'tens of millions' of crime cash, U.S. alleges

A Vancouver businessman alleged to have sold encrypted BlackBerrys to international drug-trafficking organizations laundered “tens of millions” of dollars of his illicit profits, U.S. law enforcement says in court documents.


Vincent Ramos, who owns Phantom Security Communications, was arrested in Washington state last Wednesday and is facing racketeering, drug-trafficking, conspiracy and money-laundering charges in San Diego.

The U.S. alleges he sold 20,000 of his specialized devices, as well as access to his encrypted communication network, to organized crime groups around the world, including the deadly Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, headed by Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman.

And Ramos used shell companies and crypto currencies to launder that money, documents obtained by Postmedia News say.

“Based on reports of the RCMP, Australia and the U.S. financial investigators and agents that I have reviewed, bank records, corporate ownership filings in Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong show that Phantom Secure generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue by facilitating the crimes of transnational criminal organizations and protecting these organizations from detection by law enforcement,” FBI special agent Nicholas Cheviron says in an affidavit filed in court.

“I know that to launder its ill-gotten gains and maintain its members’ anonymity, the Phantom Secure enterprise uses crypto currencies, including Bitcoin, and shell companies.”

Ramos appears to own only one property in B.C. — a New Westminster condo assessed this year at $424,000.

The U.S. documents don’t name the shell companies or state in which country they have been set up.

Meanwhile, in B.C., where Ramos started his company in 2008, he owes the government almost $150,000 in unpaid sales tax.

Last November, the B.C. director of provincial sales tax obtained a court order to seize and sell the assets of Phantom Secure because of the unpaid $147,298.23 in tax. The court order lists Phantom Secure’s offices as being in Vancouver in the 200-block West 7th Avenue.

But Postmedia visited the multi-unit building Friday and found no reference to the controversial encryption company. A different Richmond address is listed on Phantom Secure’s most-recent B.C. corporate records. But the unit is a UPS Store and not a storefront for Ramos’s company.

Sources told Postmedia that Phantom Secure didn’t operate a public storefront in Metro Vancouver. But the company did have branches of its business in Los Angeles, Dubai, Mexico and Australia.

Phantom Secure’s closed-communications system shut down about noon Friday, according to some system-users.

The company issued a news release from Dubai in August 2015 announcing a new “online store.”

“Today, after months of anticipation, the encrypted telecom company giant Phantom Secure launches their new online store at,” the release says. “A veteran in the secure-communications industry, Phantom Secure has been delivering military-grade encrypted Blackberry devices to their clients for over a decade and are now finally about to offer an ecommerce payment solution to customers worldwide.”

The link to the store appears to have now been disabled.

Cyprus is a ‘slave’ to US in teen extradition case.

The zealousness of the attorney general’s office has once again come under question over the speed and efficiency with which it appears to be working towards extraditing a 19-year-old Cypriot to the United States, wanted by the FBI for hacking related activities.


If it goes ahead, it will be the first time a Cypriot has ever been extradited to the US.

Adding to the questions is that he has already been charged with two hacking offences in Cyprus and that the alleged offences in the US occurred when he was still a minor.

“No Cypriot has been extradited to the US. Ever. And they want to send a 19-year-old who was a minor when he allegedly committed the offences the FBI is investigating,” Pavlos Erotocritou, one of the teen’s defence lawyers told the Sunday Mail.

Joshua Epiphaniou has been held at the central prisons since May last year.

In Cyprus Epiphaniou has been charged with being behind a DDos attack (distributed denial of service) on Cablenet which rendered their telephony and internet services useless for around 12 hours. He is also facing charges in connection with extorting €2,000 from a Limassol company which buys and sells internet traffic. He denies all charges.

After his IP was traced by Cablenet techs who were trying to fix their systems, a slew of other suspect information came to light.

Following his arrest, the FBI said they suspected him of being behind hacking offences allegedly committed between 2014 and 2016. Epiphaniou is believed to have obtained thousands of US dollars from five US firms by accessing their systems and threatening to leak their data if they didn’t pay up.

Some €69,000 in cash was found in his home.

In one instance, US authorities believe he threatened one American company to pay €19,000 which was done in two instalments. In a second case, he apparently asked for €90,000 but managed to get €1,000.

Police found evidence – in the form a screenshot – leading them to believe he may also have obtained 38,000 in bitcoin – which at the time was roughly €400,000.

American authorities have since filed an extradition request to try him under US law.

The 19-year-old’s story is certainly unique. If true, the offences were committed when he was between the ages of 15 and 17. Self-taught in his computer skills and from a poor family, Epiphaniou dropped out of school for a year before graduation as his family couldn’t afford the tuition for his private education.

His Filipina mother, 54, worked at a supermarket. His father, a Cypriot police officer, was largely absent from his son’s life and paid child support only after a court-imposed decision. They could not afford to pay his €70,000 bail after his arrest in May last year. The amount was later dropped to €50,000 and eventually €1,000.

Defence lawyer Erotocritou says this was a deliberate ploy from the prosecution. “They tricked us. As soon as the bail was paid, he left prison and then they arrested him again for the extradition proceeding,” he told the Sunday Mail.

Even though the teen was held in prison, the warrant had to be executed to initiate the extradition hearing, Erotocritou specified. “If we knew, we wouldn’t have paid the bail.”

Why the justice ministry and attorney general’s office allowed the extradition process to begin is a question that remains unanswered from both parties.“They could have refused from the onset,” Erotocritou said.

The justice ministry confirmed to the Sunday Mail that while a cooperation between US and Cypriot authorities is in place to date, no Cypriot has been extradited to the US. Whether this teen will be the first remains to be seen but many questions remain unanswered.

For starters, even the state prosecutor on the case Marina Spiliotopoulou had outlined in court that the case is moving much faster than other cases.Additionally, what cannot be ignored is the fact that Epiphaniou was a minor when the offences the FBI is investigating allegedly took place.

“He is being tried in Cyprus for two cases. He should be tried for all offences (including the American ones) here,” Erotocritou said.For one, Epiphaniou could face up to 20-years in jail if found guilty in the United States – a far cry from up to five years in Cyprus.

Though he is showing clear signs of depression in jail, this will only get worse if he is extradited, his defence believes.

“It’s not the court’s fault. I believe the justice ministry and attorney general’s office have the responsibility to tell the Americans the case should be tried in Cyprus.”

Erotocritou cited the case of British hacker Lauri Love, where the court of appeal decided he would not be extradited to the US to face trial for hacking into computer systems including Nasa, the Federal Reserve and the US army.“The countries look after their own nationals,” he said.

“We shouldn’t be slaves to the Americans or the Russians. Whose justice do you want to serve?”According to Erotocritou however, the interest of the state is “to serve the interests of the Americans”.

A few months ago, leaked emails of senior state attorney Eleni Loizidou appeared to show she went above her call of duty when pursuing extradition requests from the Russian government against Russian nationals.

The emails revealed Loizidou would, for instance, offer to intervene in cases to buy Russians more time to produce documents or advise them on how to proceed so as to get favourable rulings from Cypriot courts.

“At least they were Russians being extradited to Russia. This is a Cypriot,” Erotocritou outlined.

Loizidou has since been suspended, while several journalists have been hauled in for questioning and daily Politis which broke the story was served an injunction barring it from publishing contents of the leaked emails.

Epiphaniou’s defence team is also arguing that the offences, if true, were committed from the 19-year-old’s room. He never left the country.The prosecution argues that they were American companies and thus the alleged offences should be treated as if they were committed on US soil. The nature of these offences do not require one to be physically present.

The two sides also do not see eye to eye on whether the offences are of similar nature.

Erotocritou argues that the offences in both the American and domestic cases are of similar nature and therefore all should be tried in Cyprus.

Meanwhile, the view from the other side is that it appears they are not.

More crucially, according to Erotocritou, accusations pertaining to the fact that the hacker was a minor when the offences were allegedly committed, are answered with vague answers outlining “these are internal matters”, and that there are “bilateral treaties with mutual obligations”.

The justice ministry would only confirm that no Cypriot had been extradited to the US and there was an ongoing case against the 19-year-old. Requests for comment from the Sunday Mail on why the case had been approved to go to court for an extradition remained unanswered.

Even Lycourgos Kyprianou, a businessman wanted for financial fraud that cost shareholders of American IT firm AremisSoft over $500,000, was never extradited.

As the chairman of the company, listed on the American stock exchange Nasdaq, Kyprianou was indicted in 2002 by the US on criminal charges including securities fraud and money laundering.

Although he was in Cyprus, he was never extradited even though a treaty on extraditing fugitives had come into effect in 1999.

A Reuters report on the case in 2007 quoted a US embassy spokesman in Nicosia as saying a request for extradition had not been filed – although sources now suggest that may have been the result of behind the scenes discussions where Cyprus may have made it clear they would not proceed with an extradition and not even allow it to proceed to court.

“It is a shame to want to send a 19-year-old to the US to be tried for offences he allegedly committed from his room in Cyprus,” Erotocritou said.

“There has never been a case like this in Cyprus.”

Diplomat vows Moscow won’t turn blind eye to arrest of Russians at US request

A Russian diplomat says the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance openly neglected by the American side

 Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov

HELSINKI, September 12. /TASS/. Russia will not remain indifferent to the abductions and arrests of Russian citizens in third countries at the request of the United States, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters on Tuesday following two-day consultations with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon.

"We just cannot remain indifferent to the de facto abductions of Russian citizens, to their continuing arrests in third countries under US warrants," he said.

"There are mechanisms for bilateral cooperation, the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance openly neglected by the Americans. There is the bilateral consular convention. There is an understanding of how and when to notify the Russian side in such situations. Unfortunately, all that remains a theory and is not used by the Americans on the practical level as a tool, which should be used, if they have questions to our citizens," the high-ranking diplomat stated.

"We used the possibility to analyze what happened, point by point, in a most thorough manner and show Americans the absolute unlawfulness of their actions, as well as demonstrate with specific examples the groundlessness of their accusations against us and attempts to actually pass the buck regarding the chain of events that have to be addressed and that we all witnessed," Ryabkov said.

Over 10 Russians arrested abroad at US requests in 2017

MOSCOW, February 1. /TASS/. Over 10 Russian citizens were arrested abroad at US requests in 2017, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported on its website on Thursday.

 Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov

"Despite our appeals to establish cooperation between relevant authorities in Russia and the US based on the bilateral US-Russian Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty of 1999, American intelligence agencies continue a true ‘hunt’ for Russians across the world. The number of such cases already reached four dozens," the ministry stated. "Over 10 Russians were arrested abroad at Washington’s requests in 2017."

It even goes as far as abducting Russians, the ministry noted. "This is the way it happened with Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was abducted in 2010 in Liberia and secretly - in violation of this country’s national legislation and international law - taken to the US, as well as with Roman Seleznev, whom American agents literally stole from the Maldives in July 2014 and forcibly took to the American territory," the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated.

Moscow stressed that "after extradition to the US, Russian citizens face discrimination of the American "justice." "There are attempts through various methods, including direct threats, to make them plead guilty, despite the farfetchedness of many accusations, and they are given long jail terms if they refuse. This is what happened to mentioned Konstantin Yaroshenko and Russian businessman Viktor Bout," the ministry noted.

The ministry said that "Russian diplomatic missions abroad have always provided comprehensive consular and legal help to Russians in distress and will continue to provide it, striving for observance of their lawful rights and interests, as well as the speediest return to their Motherland." "However, regarding the mentioned circumstances, we strongly recommend Russian citizens to assess all risks, especially if there are grounds to expect claims from American law enforcement authorities," the ministry stressed.

Moscow Warns Citizens Traveling Abroad: U.S. ‘Hunting’ for Russians to Arrest

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on Thursday warning its citizens to be careful if they travel abroad because the United States is “hunting” for Russians to arrest.


The Foreign Ministry warned Russians of the “threat of being detained or arrested at the request of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence services in third countries.”

“Despite our calls to improve cooperation between the relevant U.S. and Russian authorities … U.S. special services have effectively continued ‘a hunt’ for Russians around the world,” the statement asserted. “Considering these circumstances, we strongly insist that Russian citizens carefully weigh up all the risks when planning trips abroad.”

In other words, the Foreign Ministry is telling Russian citizens they might be arrested by third countries and extradited to the United States.

The UK Independent notes that the great Russian hunt carried out by the predatory U.S. government consists of arresting seven Russians in 2017 instead of the normal average of two per year, and the Russian Foreign Ministry itself admits that most of them were accused cyber-criminals.

Moscow does not make much of a case that any of these people were arrested randomly or unjustly. For example, one of the Russians arrested early in 2017 was Stanislav Lisov, who is charged with creating a trojan-horse virus that inflicted an estimated $5 million in damage on financial institutions across the world. Lisov was under investigation for the better part of three years before he was arrested by Spain and held for eleven months before his extradition to the U.S. was finally approved. That is difficult to square with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s alarmist portrait of American agents randomly scooping up innocent Russian travelers and hauling them back to Washington for show trials.

Moscow also complained about what it portrayed as the American kidnapping of Roman Seleznev from the Maldives in 2014. Under investigation since 2011 for his activities as a hacker-for-hire, Seleznev was frolicking in the Maldives precisely because the Russian cybercrime underground was convinced Western law enforcement could not touch them there.

The Maldives made a deal with the U.S. to arrest and extradite Seleznev, by all accounts moving swiftly but not extra-legally, and he came bundled with a laptop containing 1.7 million stolen credit card numbers. He was convicted on over 30 counts by a Seattle court in 2016 and sentenced to 27 years in federal prison, with a few more state cases against him pending. Again, this was not a random kidnapping hastily arranged because irritable American officials were eager to throw a few Russian tourists in jail.

The Foreign Ministry sneered that “Russian citizens face a prejudiced attitude on the part of American ‘justice,’” but the example they chose was Viktor Bout, the nefarious arms dealer who was the inspiration for the Nicolas Cage film Lord of War.

Bout was at one point the second most-wanted man in the world for U.S. intelligence services, the first being Osama bin Laden. He was busted in Thailand in a sting operation where he thought he was selling millions of dollars in weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to the FARC terrorists of South America. He was arrested in 2008 and given a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence by a U.S. court in 2012. There isn’t much doubt that he ran a huge volume of guns to terrorists and criminal organizations, especially since the cocky smuggling kingpin had a penchant for making home movies of himself doing it.

Russia has been grumbling that the sentence was excessive ever since it was handed down, but Bout is an odd choice for an argument that American justice moves too swiftly and is irrationally biased against Russians.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement is a political tantrum, and it’s not hard to see why. The statement warns that Russians in U.S. custody are “pressured to admit their guilt, despite the fictitiousness of the charges, and when they refuse they are given huge prison sentences.”

In addition to warning Russian travelers that Uncle Sam is waiting to pounce on them when they travel to foreign countries, the Foreign Ministry complained on Friday about U.S. accusations that Russia has been interfering in foreign elections, most recently Mexico’s 2018 presidential race. Moscow seems interested in laying the groundwork to deny what it fears Russians in U.S. custody might say about certain matters of international interest.

Russia says U.S. 'hunting' for Russians to arrest around the world

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has issued a travel warning recommending its citizens think twice before traveling abroad, saying the United States was hunting for Russians to arrest around the world.

 Passengers check the departure board at the Domodedovo Airport outside Moscow, Russia September 28, 2017. 

Passengers check the departure board at the Domodedovo Airport outside Moscow, Russia September 28, 2017. 

The Foreign Ministry statement warns Russian citizens that when abroad they face a serious threat of arrest by other countries at Washington’s request, after which they could be extradited to the United States.

“Despite our calls to improve cooperation between the relevant U.S. and Russian authorities ... U.S. special services have effectively continued ”hunting“ for Russians around the world,” the travel warning said.

By way of example, it pointed to at least four Russians arrested on U.S. cyber crime charges in Spain, Latvia and Greece. U.S. action against suspected Russian cyber criminals surged to a record high last year.

Seven Russians were arrested or indicted in 2017 in the United States and abroad, compared to an average of two a year in the preceding six years.

The ministry pointed to the case of Stanislav Lisov, accused of creating a computer virus that targeted customers of financial institutions, causing millions of dollars of damage, who was extradited from Spain to the United States last year.

It mentioned earlier cases as well, including the detention of Roman Seleznev for cyber crime in the Maldives in 2014, which it described as a kidnapping by American agents.

The statement, published on Thursday, also warns Russian citizens that upon extradition they will face biased treatment at the hands of the U.S. justice system.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment.


Russia warns citizens to rethink foreign travel because US 'hunting' for Russians to arrest around world

Moscow's foreign ministry issues statement calling American justice system 'biased'

 Russian leader Vladimir Putin (left) meeting US president Donald Trump Reuters

Russian leader Vladimir Putin (left) meeting US president Donald Trump Reuters

Russia has warned its citizens to rethink travelling abroad because, it claims, the US is “hunting” for Russians to arrest around the world.  

The travel warning, which was issued by Moscow’s foreign ministry, cautioned Russians face a serious threat of arrest by other countries at Washington’s request, after which they could be extradited to America. 

“Despite our calls to improve cooperation between the relevant US and Russian authorities... US special services have effectively continued hunting for Russians around the world,” the statement said.

“Considering these circumstances, we strongly insist that Russian citizens carefully weigh up all the risks when planning trips abroad.”

It claimed more than 10 Russians had been detained in foreign countries with US involvement since the start of 2017.

It pointed to at least four Russians arrested on US cybercrime charges in Spain, Latvia and Greece. US action against suspected Russian cyber criminals surged to a record high last year.

Seven Russians were arrested or indicted in 2017 in America and abroad, compared to an average of two a year in the preceding six years.

The ministry pointed to the case of Stanislav Lisov, accused of creating a computer virus that targeted customers of financial institutions, causing millions of dollars of damage, who was extradited from Spain to the US last year.

It mentioned earlier cases as well, including the detention of Roman Seleznev for cybercrime in the Maldives in 2014, which it described as a kidnapping by American agents. Seleznev, who is the son of a Russian politician, was later convicted of hacking by a Seattle court.

The statement, published on Thursday, also warns Russian citizens that upon extradition they will face biased treatment at the hands of the US justice system.

The US State Department declined to comment on the Russian travel advisory. But it comes amid a number of American investigations into Russian attempts to influence or impede the 2016 presidential election. 

And while the US has not made an explicit link between its prosecutions of Russian hackers and the election, some of those arrested have said they were being asked by the FBI to confess to hacking the email server of the Democratic National Congress. 

A New Zealand Judge Dismisses Almost All of Kim Dotcom's Appeals Against Extradition

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom’s attempt to contest an extradition order to the United States hit a snag Friday, after a a New Zealand judge rejected seven of his eight grounds for appeal.

  Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom in court after his hearing was moved from the North Shore District Court on September 21, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom in court after his hearing was moved from the North Shore District Court on September 21, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Dotcom, born Kim Schmitz, is challenging a decision by New Zealand’s high court, which in February granted the U.S. the right to extradite him over alleged money laundering and copyright infringements related to the now-defunct file sharing site he founded, Megaupload.

But on Friday a high court justice said the only one of Dotcom’s grounds for contesting the order — which include challenging the validity of police arrest warrants and New Zealand court orders — would stand.

That challenge — which the U.S. has not contested — relates to authorities in New Zealand making clones of electronic devices in his home and then sending them to the U.S.

Dotocom, an early internet millionaire, is notorious for his lavish lifestyle and political activism. He has been fighting extradition to the U.S. since 2012, according to the Herald.

Two Romanians arrested for hacking D.C. surveillance cameras before Trump inauguration

Two Romanian nationals were arrested trying to leave the country for allegedly taking over Washington D.C. surveillance cameras right before President Trump’s inauguration.


Mihai Isvanca and Eveline Cismaru were arrested earlier this month in Bucharest and now await extradition to the U.S. on charges of wire fraud and attacking protected computers, according to court filings from the Department of Justice.

The pair is accused of taking control of approximately 123 computers that control cameras in the nation’s capital for four days starting January 9 and used them to send ransomware emails.

An affidavit says that an administrator for Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police discovered the intrusion on January 12, with signs that the malware “Cerber” and “Dharma” were being sent to a list of 179,000 email addresses contained in a text file.

Investigators said evidence on the computers led to several email addresses including one that is the Romanian translation of “selling souls” and one for Cismaru with the exact same text file full of email accounts.

It is unclear if any of the “phishing” emails trying to get victims to open infected material were successful, though both an email for Cismaru and an email for Isvanca were also seen transferring information about thousands of credit cards.

After being traced through IP addresses, prosecutors say both Isvanca and Cismaru are on house arrest in Romania.

The complaint does not say why the alleged hackers targeted the Washington D.C. camera system rather than other potential victims, though the use of ransomware suggests money was the motivation rather than access to the cameras.

Officials in the capital and Secret Service acknowledged the breach back in January, though said it was never a threat to public safety.

The hack also reportedly did not extend to the city’s computer system at large, and Washington’s Chief Technology Officer Archana Vemulapalli said the cameras were fixed by removing all software from them.

Kentucky fugitive Eric Conn extradited back to US after being arrested at Pizza Hut in Honduras

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) - A lawyer who spent six months on the run after pleading guilty in a $500 million Social Security fraud scheme was flown back to Kentucky Tuesday after he was caught outside a Pizza Hut in Honduras.

 Eric Conn

Eric Conn

Eric Conn was handed over to the FBI after his capture by a SWAT team as he left the restaurant in the coastal city of La Ceiba. Spokesman Jorge Galindo of the country's Technical Agency of Criminal Investigation said they left Honduras on a private plane. Conn landed in Lexington around 7:30 p.m. and was placed in custody by FBI agents immediately after walking off the plane.

"As promised, Mr. Conn will now be held accountable for his actions, the people he deceived and the lives he shattered, including all the victims of his greed in eastern Kentucky," said Amy Hess, special agent in charge of the Louisville field office for the FBI.

Conn speaks multiple languages, had crossed the border 140 times over 10 years and had told at least six people he would flee the country rather than go to prison for his crimes. Yet a federal judge released Conn on $1.25 million bail, and allowed him to remain free even after he pleaded guilty in March to stealing from the federal government and bribing a judge to fix Social Security fraud cases.

Conn fled on June 2. He cut off his electronic ankle monitor and put it inside a metallic pouch designed to suppress electronic signals, authorities said. While nearly a dozen law enforcement agencies searched for the fugitive, he was sentenced in absentia last summer to a 12-year prison term -- the maximum possible.

Now 57 according to his FBI wanted poster, Conn faces many more years in prison if convicted of charges related to his escape.

Authorities interviewed dozens of people, analyzed his bank accounts, and meticulously read through emails and social media posts purported to be from Conn. They searched his former law office and his mother's house in Stanville, Kentucky. The hunt led searchers to a Walmart parking lot in New Mexico over the summer and, finally, to the Pizza Hut in Honduras on Saturday.

Ultimately, the Honduras public magistrate's office said his arrest was "the product of arduous intelligence, surveillance and tailing by the agents."

Conn, wearing a blue polo shirt with close-cropped, reddish-gray hair, was led away in handcuffs by Honduran police agents with ballistic vests and assault rifles, and then turned over to the FBI, which flew him home in a private plane.

Conn's capture was cheered by his former clients and their families, who have struggled to make ends meet while fighting to keep their Social Security disability checks.

"That's wonderful," said Donna Dye, whose husband was among Conn's clients in Appalachia. "I never thought they would catch him. He let people like my husband have trust in him, and he let that down."

Federal authorities claim Conn had help in escaping.

An indictment unsealed in October alleged that one of his employees opened a bank account Conn used to transfer money, tested security at the Mexican border and bought a pickup truck for use in Conn's escape. The employee, Curtis Lee Wyatt, has pleaded not guilty to aiding in Conn's escape and abetting his failure to appear.

The same indictment claims Conn hatched his escape plot around June 2016, two months after he was first indicted and a year before his disappearance.

Conn, who started his law practice in a trailer in 1993, had portrayed himself as "Mr. Social Security." He fueled that persona with outlandish TV commercials and small-scale replicas of the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial at his office in eastern Kentucky.

Conn represented thousands in successful claims for Social Security benefits. But his empire crumbled when authorities discovered he had been bribing a doctor and judge to approve disability claims based on fake medical evidence.

Among his former clients in the impoverished coalfields of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia are many people with legitimate disabilities.

Donna Dye's husband, Timothy, was among the throngs of Conn's clients who had to fight to keep their disability checks. Timothy Dye went on disability for chronic arthritis after working decades in coal mines.

"I have gone through hell," she said by phone Tuesday. "My husband's gone through hell. It's just been nothing but pain and struggle and worries. Just pure pressure."

Ned Pillersdorf, an eastern Kentucky attorney representing hundreds of Conn's former clients, said Conn caused a "true humanitarian crisis."

"With his capture, I'm hoping we can get this ordeal behind us, put him in prison where he belongs and start to undo the damage he has done to his former clients," Pillersdorf said by phone Monday night.

As part of the fallout, the Social Security Administration identified about 1,500 beneficiaries, mostly in eastern Kentucky, who were made to undergo hearings. Pillersdorf said those hearings are nearly complete, and about 700 have been found eligible to maintain the benefits.

Russia Issues Travel Warning to Its Citizens About United States and Extradition

MOSCOW — Countries often issue travel advisories warning citizens of danger abroad: war, for instance, or a terrorist threat or an outbreak of disease. The Russian Foreign Ministry posted advice of a somewhat different nature on Monday, cautioning people wanted by the United States not to visit nations that have an extradition treaty with it.


“Warning for Russian citizens traveling internationally,” the Foreign Ministry bulletin said. “Recently, detentions of Russian citizens in various countries, at the request of American law enforcement, have become more frequent — with the goal of extradition and legal prosecution in the United States.”

Citing examples in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Lithuania and Spain, the Foreign Ministry said, “Experience shows that the judicial proceedings against those who were in fact kidnapped and taken to the U.S. are of a biased character, based on shaky evidence, and clearly tilted toward conviction.”

Extradition has frequently been a contentious issue between Russia and the United States, but the disagreements have been particularly sharp in recent months over the case of Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who is wanted on criminal espionage charges but has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

In response to the demands by the Obama administration for Mr. Snowden’s return, Russian officials have said the United States has routinely ignored extradition requests from Russia. Russia has also complained about the arrests of Russian citizens by the United States or by other countries at the Americans’ request.

In late July, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, criticized the arrest in the Dominican Republic of Aleksandr Panin, a Russian citizen wanted by the United States on charges related to cybercrimes.

Ms. Zakharova said Russia considered such arrests “a vicious trend, absolutely unacceptable and inadmissible.” She said the Russian government demanded that the United States request the arrest of Russian citizens directly from Moscow, under a 1999 treaty on assistance in criminal matters.

There is no formal extradition treaty between Russia and the United States. Russian officials cited the lack of such an agreement as a main reason they could not forcibly return Mr. Snowden from the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, where he lived for more than a month until his temporary asylum request was approved.

Russia has often accused the United States of overstepping and potentially violating international law in its treatment of Russian citizens accused of crimes. It bridled over the handling of Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer who was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and was extradited to the United States, convicted in federal court and jailed in a federal prison.

The United States has said that Mr. Bout’s arrest and extradition by the Thai government were legal, and that other cases have also been handled in accordance with international law.

Besides the case of Mr. Panin, the Foreign Ministry’s travel advisory mentioned Maksim Chukharayev, who was arrested in Costa Rica in May in an investigation into a huge money-laundering operation, and Dmitry Ustinov, arrested in April in Lithuania and accused of smuggling American-made night-vision goggles to Russia for resale.

The Foreign Ministry said Russian citizens could not expect to be treated fairly in the American justice system. “Russian embassies and consulates general logically give consular and legal help to Russians in trouble,” the Foreign Ministry said.

“However,” it added, “one should not count on a successful outcome in such cases.”

Correction: September 16, 2013

An article on Sept. 3 about a Russian Foreign Ministry advisory warning Russians wanted by the United States not to visit countries with which the United States has an extradition treaty misidentified, in some editions, one such country, where a Russian, Dmitry Ustinov, was arrested in April and accused of smuggling American-made night-vision goggles to Russia for resale. It is Lithuania, not Latvia.