How an Underground Tech CEO Escaped the FBI

In this week's episode of CYBER, Joseph Cox tells the narrative story of encrypted phone company Phantom Secure.
October 28, 2020, 1:00pm
Phantom Secure
Image: Rebekka Dunlap

Vincent Ramos was supposed to just be a salesman. Instead, he was in a Las Vegas hotel room, surrounded by FBI agents. The agents wanted him to plant a backdoor in Phantom Secure, the encrypted phone network that Ramos and his employees had built over years. Bikers used the phones to plan murders, and the Sinaloa Cartel had the phones too. But with the law enforcement officials asleep, Ramos saw a way out.

In this episode of CYBER, Senior Staff Writer Joseph Cox tells the narrative story of Phantom. How it grew from a cool-to-gadget, through to a network preferred by some of the top-tier members of organized crime. Based on sources inside Phantom, internal documents, an FBI file, and those who knew Ramos personally, it is a story about the lines that each person is willing to cross when it comes to helping criminals. For Ramos, that was being able to earn money for his family and live a lavish lifestyle, while staying what he thought was multiple steps removed from the criminals themselves.

But as the story shows, Ramos had moved from plausible deniability to crime tech guy. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies found a way to get Ramos on tape, suggesting his phones could explicitly be used for drug trafficking.

"He did learn to manage gangsters as clients," one source with knowledge of Phantom's operations said.