In November 2019, the federal government shut down Gears-branded IPTV services operated by Bill Omar Carrasquillo, better known by his social media handle 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, all alleged to have been purchased with revenues from Carrasquillo’s pirate TV services.
A criminal indictment unsealed last year revealed that Carrasquillo of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Jesse Gonzales of California, and Michael Barone of New York had all been charged with serious offenses relating to the illegal capture and redistribution of Comcast, Verizon, Spectrum, DirecTV and Frontier Communications broadcasts.
With Carrasquillo facing a sentence of 514 years and the forfeiture of dozens of supercars (not to mention dozens of pieces of real estate), the YouTuber has always maintained his innocence, insisting that the legal advice he received while operating his services was solid.
Whatever that advice was, anyone with even a basic understanding of copyright law in the United States could see otherwise. The consequences of not paying taxes are even more obvious so now, via a message to his fans, Carrasquillo says he will plead guilty.
Even more than that, Carrasquillo says he IS guilty and will have to face the music.
Omi: I Did Wrong, I F***** Up, I’m Guilty
“It’s a super-unfortunate situation. I’m not a threat to society by any means but you know, what did what I did was kind f***** up. Created an app that basically had live TV and recorded shows in a DVR catch-up type of thing. I’m letting you guys know that I’m pleading guilty,” he says in a YouTube video
“Long talks with my attorney, it’s the best option you know. Everyone [presumably co-defendants] already pleaded out, already pleaded guilty on my case, [which] makes no sense, plus it’s an acceptance of responsibility for me.”
Precisely what deal Carrasquillo has reached with prosecutors isn’t made clear. There is no mention of time in prison yet but there is a clear financial component with many, many millions at stake.
“It just sucks, it sucks, it sucks. It sucks to lose my house, to lose properties, money, all my cars, my jewelry. It’s an embarrassment.”
Omi to fans: Don’t Do What I Did
Omi previously painted his predicament as one of a ‘hustler’ who exploited a ‘gray area’ in order to give poorer people access to content for which cable companies were charging too much. His comments now appear to have switched almost entirely towards cautionary advice – anti-piracy advocacy even.
“You know what, this is to kind of let you know man that you don’t want to take easy routes in life. I’ve always been good at hustling you know and in a good sense. I’m not talking about selling drugs I’m talking about hustling you know, grabbing an item selling it for more. I did this through Craigslist, I did this through Facebook,” he says.
“You obtain everything quick but at the end of the day it’s not worth it man so I’m letting you guys know you if you’re f****** and streaming and shit like that man…’STOP IT’.”
There Was No Gray Area
One of the interesting aspects of the case against Carrasquillo is that at the time of his offenses, rightsholders were pushing extremely hard to plug a perceived loophole in copyright law. By treating streaming as a felony, not a mere misdemeanor, the ‘Protecting Lawful Streaming Act 2020‘ would help rightsholders tackle IPTV operations similar to Carrasquillo’s.
Given that the new law passed in 2020 and Carrasquillo’s offenses pre-dated that by years, it’s pretty obvious that existing legislation was already enough in a case like his. Nevertheless, Carrasquillo believes that others who are considering emulating people like him should now be extra cautious, since the new legislation allows for lengthy jail sentences.
“It’s 10 years in prison now if you stream,” Omi warns, leaning towards the camera. The truth is a little more nuanced, however.
In rough terms, people who provide a service that is primarily designed for distributing copyright works for the purposes of “commercial advantage or private financial gain”, can be fined and imprisoned for up to three years. If the service carries pre-release content, the sentence jumps to five years. The 10-year maximum only comes into play for repeat offenders (pdf).
Omi’s Crimes Are ‘A Little Bit Different’
Omi concedes his case became more complex because he didn’t pay his taxes but he’s stressing that the important thing now is for him is to just accept that he was wrong and what he did was illegal.
“Ignorance is no excuse like I’ve always said and to me it’s about accepting responsibility and just stop feeding myself some bullshit. To me it’s narcissistic behavior, the shit that I do. I’m always the victim, America is against me – No. I wouldn’t have had this issue if I hadn’t created this service [and paid my taxes] – that’s a fact.
Disney+ Gets Credited For Omi’s Change of Heart
While Disney and its products have brought joy to countless millions over decades, the company is also well-known for being one of the most bullish pro-copyright corporations ever to exist, one that executes aggressive anti-piracy strategies on a daily basis.
It’s therefore more than a little interesting to see Omi crediting the company for what appears to be his road to Damascus-style recovery.
“I feel guilty. I was watching Disney+, watching Pixar – it’s like ‘meet the creators’ – and I saw this massive building and if you watch ‘meet the creators’ you get to watch the animators and some of the people that work on some of these movies.
“Pixar has Thousands of employees and you see them all walking into the building at the same time, everybody’s just moving. The kitchen is rolling, the auditorium in that place is humongous. It takes them five years – FIVE YEARS – to make one movie,” he exclaims.
“So think about all the money you’re investing, and investing in all the people running back and forth. At the end of the day, do they still get paid? Yes, Omi says, but that made him think about a situation he faced too, when people copied his own products.
Omi Says He’s a Victim of Piracy Too
For some time now, Omi has been selling clothing and other products featuring his ‘Reloaded’ branding, named after one of his services of the same name. He says that when he discovered that someone had copied his products and knock-offs were being sold, it didn’t feel great.
“When I found out that someone was selling Reloaded merchandise t-shirts that shit bothered me. So imagine what a copyright holder has to go through. You’re skipping off money off the top. Towards the beginning I felt like what I did wasn’t illegal and the more I sit back and dwell on it, I was feeding myself bullshit.
“When you’re redistributing copyright material, it’s illegal – no if, and, or buts. But do I deserve all that time in prison? No man, that’s just ludicrous but I do have to make some wrongs into rights.
Omi Says Nobody is Pulling His Strings
Considering the significant public effect of a high-profile YouTuber denouncing piracy like Omi now has, one might rightly muse over whether this is genuine remorse or spoon-fed industry propaganda that could have the potential to lighten his ultimate punishment.
While expressions of guilt and remorse can indeed have that effect, Omi insists that what he is saying is entirely voluntary and he wasn’t coerced in any way.