After years of operating with relative impunity in the United States, pirate IPTV services offering restreams of live TV felt they were untouchable due to an apparent loophole in the law.
Copyright holders worked hard to have the law tightened up and in December 2020, Congress passed a bill to criminalize streaming piracy services. Titled the ‘Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020’, the legislation now allows law enforcement to prosecute pirate streaming services as a felony, not just a misdemeanor.
While this change drew an important line in the sand, law enforcement action in November 2019 showed that where there is a will to bring someone down, there’s probably a law already available to do so.
Massive Raids Target OMI IN A HELLCAT
Omar Carrasquillo is better known by his YouTube handle OMI IN A HELLCAT and as the operator of the now-defunct pirate IPTV service Gears Reloaded. After providing solid service to large numbers of subscribers, around November 20, 2019, the service went offline showing a “down for maintenance” message. In reality, the position was much more serious than that.
Following raids by FBI and IRS agents, Carrasquillo had to stand by while a fleet of luxury supercars and millions in cash and jewelry were seized by the authorities.
“This is Napster 2.0. This wasn’t killing anybody. If anything I saved hundreds of thousands of people [with] cheaper cable. IPTV is not illegal in the US. It isn’t. It isn’t. It’s illegal in other countries but it’s not illegal in the US,” he said at the time.
Death and Taxes
Just over a week after the raid and Carrasquillo began to further home in on what he believed was the reason for the action against him and Gears. The YouTuber had been generating huge money from his Gears service but for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, had failed to properly file and pay his taxes.
He said that he’d hoped to catch up by paying around $2m and the rest in installments but the raids derailed all of that.
Carrasquillo later claimed that the FBI seized “at least” $5.2m from his bank accounts. Court documents also showed the scale of the physical seizures, with a laundry list of cars and other vehicles detailed by the US authorities.
Carrasquillo Says He Had Accountant Problems
For months Carrasquillo has continued to release videos on YouTube but has mostly refrained from mentioning the case against him in much detail. That changed earlier today when he explained why he hasn’t been posting ‘fun’ videos as he had done in the past.
“The reason why is the whole FBI situation. Yes, it’s been two years ago since they took over 30+ cars, took millions of dollars out of my account, for something that wasn’t illegal. Now it seems like they are trying to tack on money laundering charges, tax evasion charges. I’ve kind of been depressed about it,” he said.
“Did I money launder? No. All the money that I’ve ever gotten went into one account into the other, unless I sold something and then I have to claim that. But did I go out of my way to launder money through criminal enterprises or fund drugs? Never. It kind of hurts me, man, because I never thought there would be a day when I would ever be in trouble with the law again.”
Carrasquillo says that in 2018 he was “backed up” from 2016 and 2017 to do his taxes but due to problems with his accountants, less money was reported than he had actually earned. He says he tried to fix this by writing a check. In 2019, Carrasquillo says he hired a new accountant who asked him to transfer $4m into his account to be held in escrow. However, the Gears founder says he didn’t understand why.
Carrasquillo Believed He Was Acting Legally
Carrasquillo says he now knows that FBI agents had been watching him for two years but at no point did he feel their presence in his life.
“I had nothing to hide, I was just living my life as a wealthy man who happened to get into a business that was…yes…it was a gray area,” he said.
The Gears founder said that in 2017/2018 when he went to see his lawyer and spoke about his business practices, he raised the question of streaming.
“There’s a lot of things are going on in the streaming world, a lot of dudes are been getting in trouble,” he reportedly told his lawyer, noting that these people “do movies” and he wasn’t into that.
This appears to be a reference to other pirate IPTV services that offering VOD content and catchup services and ended up in trouble with the Motion Picture Association (MPA). Carrasquillo says he never received a cease-and-desist from anyone other than Sky Sports in the UK, whose content he eventually took down. He suggests that anyone with a problem over what was being offered should have given him a chance to respond, but that was never given.
“Anything that the government had in place to give me a chance, they never gave me those chances. I never received a cease-and-desist, I’ve never got anything of that sort. They didn’t even go through the process correctly with me,” he adds.
Carrasquillo Now Says Indictment is Imminent
Noting that he’s reached out to the IRS to pay his taxes, Carrasquillo says they simply insist that he’s been evading taxes. As a result, he’s now facing formal charges that should be filed in the next few weeks.
“I’m not an idiot…but when all this is said, I’m being indicted – July to August. I’m being indicted. And it’s f****d up man. I’m glad in one way that this is going to be put behind me….but I just wish they would be fair with me and at least give me a chance to pay them what they think I owe them.
“One minute they say ‘Hey, you obtained this money illegally, so you shouldn’t have had it in the first place’. And then part two says: ‘Ok, if I shouldn’t have had it in the first place, then how do I owe you taxes on it?’ I just don’t understand.”