Australian and Canadian authorities worked with the American FBI on the arrest of the CEO of a company that alters Blackberry and Android phones, allegedly for the criminal underworld.

Phantom Secure is one of a handful of companies that mods these phones to encrypt messaging while disabling the camera, microphone, and web browsing, which authorities might be able to tap into in order to perform surveillance on the owner.  The FBI complaint says there are about 20,000 Phantom Secure altered phones in the world, half of them in Australia.  Others have been sold in Mexico, Cuba, and Venezuela, as well as to the Hells Angels gang.

The complaint against Vincent Ramos, the founder of the well-established phone mod seller, makes a crucial assertion.  Instead of being merely incidental to a crime, like any manufacturer or retailer might be when a criminal purchases and uses a phone, agents say the company was specifically created to facilitate criminal activity. 

In the heavily redacted version reporters were allowed to see, members of the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel used Phantom's devices, and that the "upper echelon members" of transnational criminal groups have bought Phantom phones.  The email addresses of Phantom Secure's customers tell the story, with names like "Leadslinger", "the.cartel", "trigger-happy", and "knee_capper9" are all examples showing up in the complaint.

Canadian cops posed as drug dealers to buy the phones, asking if they can be used to secretly send messages about "sending MDMA to Montreal".  The company said it was "totally fine", with Mr. Ramos allegedly adding: "We made it specifically for this," meaning drug trafficking.

Neither the FBI nor Ramos' attorney has commented on the case.