A West Palm Beach, Florida, resident pleaded guilty today to multiple criminal charges in connection with a sophisticated global cell phone fraud scheme that involved compromising cellphone customers’ accounts and “cloning” their phones to make fraudulent international calls.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.
Jose Santana, aka Octavio Perez, 53, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, access device fraud, the use, production or possession of modified telecommunications instruments and the use or possession of hardware or software configured to obtain telecommunications services; one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Sentencing will be scheduled for a later date before Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley of the Southern District of Florida.
According to the plea agreement, Santana and his co-conspirators participated in a scheme to steal access to and fraudulently open new cellphone accounts using the personal information of individuals around the United States.
Santana admitted that his role in the scheme included operating a “call site” from his residence in West Palm Beach using the alias Octavio Perez. He admitted that he would receive telecommunication identifying information associated with customers’ accounts from his co-conspirators and use that data, as well as other software and hardware, to reprogram cellphones that he controlled. According to the plea agreement, Santana’s co-conspirators would then transmit thousands of international calls over the internet to Santana’s residence, where he would route them through the re-programmed cellphones to Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and other countries with high calling rates. The calls were billed to the customers’ compromised accounts, he admitted.
In addition, Santana admitted that from December 2010 through October 2011, co-conspirators sent him more than 1,000 emails containing telecommunications identifying numbers associated with cellphone account holders around the United States. According to the plea agreement, Santana was personally responsible for than $150,000 in loss resulting from the scheme.
Santana is the second defendant to plead guilty in the case. On Aug. 29, 2016, Edwin Fana pleaded guilty to similar charges in this matter, and is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 22, 2016.
The FBI investigated the case, dubbed Operation Toll Free, which is part of the bureau’s ongoing effort to combat large-scale telecommunications fraud. Senior Counsel Matthew A. Lamberti of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared M. Strauss of the Southern District of Florida are prosecuting the case.