In November 2019, dozens of FBI and IRS agents swooped to shut down a pirate IPTV service operated by YouTuber OMI IN A HELLCAT, real name Bill Omar Carrasquillo.
The operation not only closed the streams but also resulted in the seizure of an entire fleet of supercars, jewelry and in excess of $5.2m in cash. Ever since, Carrasquillo has insisted that his service was entirely legal, operating in a legal gray area that allowed copyrighted content to be streamed, for-profit, to hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
Yesterday, Carrasquillo said that despite trying to settle with the IRS, the authorities were pressing forward with their plans to indict him for tax evasion and money laundering, much to his confusion. However, it now appears that Carrasquillo knows much more about the legal action against him than he’s revealed in public thus far.
Indeed, a civil forfeiture process initiated by the United States Government against his assets details a broad, criminal, copyright-infringing scheme that netted the YouTuber tens of millions of dollars.
Civil Forfeiture Process
According to the Government, from at least March 2016 through to November 2019, Carrasquillo, business partner Jesse Daniel Gonzales, plus business entities GT Subscriptions and Hosting Bros. Inc, operated IPTV services variously branded as Gears, Reloaded, and Gears Reloaded.
Documents allege that GT Subscriptions (also known as Gears TV Subscriptions) was a corporation registered in California, owned and/or operated by Gonzales. The entity was the primary company registered with various payment processing services for Carrasquillo and Gonzales’ IPTV services. Another company, Hosting Bros Inc, was owned and/or operated by Carrasquillo for the same purpose.
The Nature of the Gears Services
Contrary to repeated claims by Carrasquillo since 2019, the US Government says that the Gears services not only provided live TV but also had a 24/7 feature that provided access to recordings of copyrighted content. While this service is said to have been shut down in May 2017, filings suggest that it returned and continued to operate until August 2017.
The Government stops short of claiming that Carrasquillo or Gonzales operated another on-demand service called Streams R US but states that the service, which was previously linked to Gears, operated until November 2018.
For its part, Reloaded (sometimes referred to as Reloaded TV) is said to have carried the same content as Gears TV. However, it allegedly offered a 24-hour catchup feature too. Gears Reloaded allegedly offered live TV too, augmented with a 48-hour catchup feature and hundreds of local channels.
How Carrasquillo and Gonzales Obtained Content
The Government alleges that between October 2016 and November 2019, Carrasquillo and Gonzales had their companies subscribe to receive TV and video content from cable and satellite TV providers including Comcast, Verizon and other suppliers including NFL Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass, MLB Extra Innings, and NHL Center Ice. This content was captured and bundled in streaming packages for sale to Gears subscribers.
“Gears TV and its related entities provided customers and subscribers access to copyrighted content without first obtaining the necessary licenses to distribute such material, which constituted an illegal copyright infringement scheme, in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 506(a)(l) and 18 U.S.C. § 2319,” the complaint reads.
Subscription Payment Processing
It’s alleged that the Gears services received subscription payments from customers via a number of payment processors including Stripe, Bank of America, Nuvei, GreenMoney and Worldpay. Nuvei alone processed more than $500,000 in transactions and on November 20, 2019, federal agents seized $542,529 from the account. Overall, however, much larger sums were involved. Around $17.3m was deposited into GT Subscriptions alone according to the complaint.
“Gears TV and its related entities received tens of millions of dollars in revenue, i.e., proceeds, during the period of time in which the enterprise operated the illegal video content service,” the complaint reads.
“This money then was deposited into business bank accounts in the names of GT Subscriptions, Hosting Bros Inc, Gears Reloaded, ONC Brothers (lesser extent), Reloaded Realty (lesser extent), and an assortment of personal names. Money was then transferred to personal bank accounts of Carrasquillo and Gonzales..”
On November 20, 2019, the FBI seize3d $5.23m from one of Carrasquillo’s accounts but that wasn’t all. In addition to seizing more than 30 cars, the FBI also found large sums of cash inside some of them including $20,850 hidden inside a 2020 Bentley Continental and $80,000 in a 2018 Mercedes Benz AMG.
No Gray Area for Criminal Copyright Infringement
While the United States recently tightened up the law to ensure that illegal streaming of live content could be prosecuted as a felony rather than just a misdemeanor, direct copyright infringement of a certain scale and nature has always been considered a crime rather than just a civil issue in the US.
Given that the term “copyright infringement scheme” appears no less than 22 times in the complaint and criminal offenses are cited on dozens of occasions – not to mention the not insignificant claims of money laundering – there can be little doubt where this case is going.
According to the Government, Carrasquillo had “virtually no legitimate income” prior to the operation of Gears, barring a “limited income” from YouTube revenue. It now wants to keep everything it has seized thus far but with an indictment on the horizon, that could be just the beginning.
The related forfeiture document can be found here (pdf)