A little under two years ago, the federal government shut down Gears-branded IPTV services operated by Bill Omar Carrasquillo (aka Omi in a Hellcat).
IRS and FBI agents seized “at least” $5.2m from his bank accounts along with a laundry list of supercars and other vehicles, alleged to have been purchased with revenues from Carrasquillo’s TV services.
As the government works to take possession of those assets in a civil process, the long-awaited criminal indictment has now landed. Unsealed last evening, it attempts to drive a coach and horses through Carrasquillo’s claim that his services operated in a legal gray area.
Grand Jury Indictment – Copyright Infringement
The indictment begins by naming Carrasquillo (‘Omar,’ ‘Omi,’ ‘Target,’ and ‘Target1080p’) of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Jesse Gonzales (aka ‘Wulfy’) of California, and Michael Barone of New York as defendants. It also references a currently anonymous ‘Person 1’ as a co-conspirator.
It’s alleged that for more than three years, the named defendants and others ran a ‘video content delivery service’ variously branded as Reboot, Gears TV, Reloaded and Gears Reloaded. They also operated a content library called Streams R Us (SRU) containing movies and other content.
“The Infringing Service delivered Video Content, including television shows and movies, to subscribers to the Infringing Service, in exchange for payment,” it reads.
It’s claimed that the defendants conspired to fraudulently obtain content from major video content providers including Comcast’s Xfinity, Verizon, Charter’s Spectrum, DirecTV and Frontier Communications. This was achieved by subscribing to their residential cable television services in a variety of locations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, California and New York.
Criminal Violations of the DMCA
In order to capture the providers’ content, the defendants allegedly imported devices from China designed to strip High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) including at least seven 16-port encoders. The content was then transmitted over the Internet and copied to computer servers controlled by the defendants, some of it for subscribers’ time-shifted consumption.
“[The defendants and Person 1] did willfully, and for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain, circumvent and attempt to circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to one or more works protected under Title 17 of the United States Code, namely, audiovisual television and movie programming offered by the Video Content Providers, and others,” the indictment states, citing criminal violations of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions.
“[The defendants] and other conspirators did not at any point seek or obtain authorization from the copyright holders or licensees to transmit, copy, or stream the Video Content [and at no point did they] disclose to the Video Content Providers that, in signing up for residential services at multiple locations’ they intended to copy, transmit, and stream the Video Content to thousands of their own subscribers.”
A sample of the works allegedly copied include Steve Jobs, Man of Steel, Game of Thrones, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Shameless and The Walking Dead. The copying of these works and more constitute criminal violations of copyright law under 17 U.S. Code § 506 and 18 U.S. Code § 2319, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment.
Pirate Services Generated $30 Million in Subscriber Fees
In order to market the pirate services to the masses, it’s alleged that the defendants utilized a YouTube channel called ‘TARGETIN1080p’ while administrative interactions between the defendants and their subscribers took place on social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Discord and Google Hangouts.
The indictment claims that in total, the defendants received more than $30m in subscriber fees through merchant processing accounts at Stripe, BOAMS, EMS, Nuvei and Worldpay, among others. These accounts were allegedly obtained by making false declarations to the processors and in some cases their banking partners in respect of the nature of the IPTV services and the identities of their owners.
Fraudulent Documents, Fraudulent Tax Returns
It has been known for some time that tax issues form a major part of the case against Carrasquillo and the indictment makes that clear with its claims against the YouTuber. It states that Carrasquillo, Gonzales and others submitted fraudulent documents, including false tax returns.
Gonzales also filed a fraudulent ‘Business Portfolio Purchase Agreement’ that claimed to show that he provided Carrasquillo with an “online customer base with web hosting capabilities” in exchange for $3 million and 24 monthly payments of $50,000.
According to the US government, the defendants “misrepresented, concealed, and hid, caused to be misrepresented’ concealed and hidden’ and attempted to misrepresent, conceal and hide the actions done in furtherance of the conspiracy.”
Indictment Demands Asset Forfeiture
The charges against the defendants reads as follows:
Conspiracy to defraud the United States (18 U.S. Code § 371), circumvention of copyright protection systems (17 U.S. Code § 1201), reproduction of a protected work (17 U.S. Code § 106 and 18 U.S. Code § 2319), public performance of a protected work (17 U.S. Code § 106 and 18 U.S. Code § 2319), access device fraud (18 U.S. Code § 1029), wire fraud, false statements to a bank, engaging in monetary transactions from unlawful activity, false statements, removal of property to prevent seizure and tax evasion.
The indictment asks the court to order forfeiture of any and all property resulting from the offenses listed above including (but not limited to) the sum of $34,826,402.00.
The amount includes items seized by the government thus far, including a fleet of luxury cars and various sums seized from banking and similar accounts. The indictment also demands forfeiture of 52 items of real estate in the Philadelphia area.
Update: A video of Carrasquillo being arrested by FBI agents a few hours ago has now appeared on YouTube.
Update2: The Department of Justice has just announced that if convicted, Carrasquillo faces a maximum possible sentence of 514 years in prison, Gonzales 244 years in prison, and Barone 130 years in prison.
“You can’t just go and monetize someone else’s copyrighted content with impunity,” says Bradley S. Benavides, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “That’s the whole point of securing a copyright. Theft is theft, and if you’re going to willfully steal another party’s intellectual property, the FBI stands ready to step in and shut you down.”