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.)