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Thursday, November 08, 2018

Fifth Defendant Pleads Guilty to Participating in Sophisticated International Cellphone Fraud Scheme


A former 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 Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.

Braulio De la Cruz Vasquez, 54, 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 is scheduled for Jan. 18, 2019, before U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom of the Southern District of Florida.

According to the plea agreement, De la Cruz and his co-conspirators participated in a scheme to steal access to existing cell phone accounts, and fraudulently open new cellphone accounts, using the personal information of individuals around the United States.

De la Cruz admitted that his role in the scheme included operating a “call site” from his residence in West Palm Beach.  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, De la Cruz’s co-conspirators would then transmit thousands of international calls over the internet to De la Cruz’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.

In addition, De la Cruz admitted that from March 2011 through April 2013, co‑conspirators sent him more than 700 emails containing approximately 2,158 telecommunications identifying numbers associated with cellphone account holders around the United States.  He also admitted that, as part of the conspiracy, he received tens of thousands of dollars from at least one Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) company for fraudulently routing international calls through his call center.

De la Cruz is a citizen of the Dominican Republic.  He was arrested in the Dominican Republic at the request of the United States and then, in August 2018, extradited to Miami, where he is currently in custody.

De la Cruz is the fifth defendant to plead guilty in the case.  Previously, defendants Edwin Fana, Farintong Calderon, Jose Santana, and Ramon Batista pleaded guilty to similar charges and have already been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 36 months to 75 months.

The FBI Miami’s Cyber Task Force investigated the case, dubbed Operation Toll Free, which is part of the FBI’s ongoing effort to combat large-scale telecommunications fraud.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs handled the extradition in this matter, with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service.  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.

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