Miami, Florida - A citizen and resident of the Dominican Republic pleaded guilty last week in Miami, to multiple criminal charges in connection with a sophisticated global cellphone fraud scheme that involved compromising cellphone customers’ accounts in the United States and “cloning” their phones to make fraudulent international calls.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.
Edgar Estarlin Peralta Lopez, 42, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, access device fraud, the use, production or possession of modified telecommunications instruments and the use or possession of hardware or software configured to obtain telecommunications services; one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 24, 2020, before U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom of the Southern District of Florida.
According to the plea agreement, Peralta and his co-conspirators participated in a scheme to steal access to existing cellphone accounts, and fraudulently open new cellphone accounts, using the personal information of individuals around the United States.
In the plea agreement, Peralta admitted that he played at least two roles in the conspiracy. First, he was a telecommunications trafficker. Specifically, Peralta would contract with telecommunication companies to transmit international calls for them for payment and then route those calls through cellphones reprogrammed with stolen or compromised telecommunications identifying information located at “call sites” in the United States. Peralta and other co-conspirators transmitted thousands of calls to Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and other countries with high calling rates. The calls were later billed to United States customers’ compromised accounts. Second, Peralta was a “line” supplier, providing his co-conspirators with stolen or compromised telecommunications identifying information that they then used to reprogram the cellphones they controlled at call sites.
In addition, in the plea agreement, Peralta admitted to trafficking in approximately 3,158 combinations of stolen or compromised telecommunications identifying information, which were found in around over 1,390 emails he exchanged with co-conspirators. Verizon Wireless reported that fraudulent use of just three of these combinations resulted in a loss of over $33,000. Peralta admitted to a loss amount of at least $315,800.
Peralta is a citizen of the Dominican Republic. He was arrested in the Dominican Republic at the request of the United States, extradited to Miami in August where he is currently in custody.
Peralta is the sixth and last defendant to plead guilty in the case. Previously, defendants Edwin Fana, Farintong Calderon, Jose Santana, Ramon Batista and Braulio de la Cruz pleaded guilty to similar charges and have already been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 36 months to 75 months.
The FBI Miami’s Cyber Task Force investigated the case, dubbed Operation Toll Free, which is part of the FBI’s ongoing effort to combat large-scale telecommunications fraud. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs handled the extradition in this matter, with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service. Senior Counsel Matthew A. Lamberti of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared M. Strauss of the Southern District of Florida are prosecuting the case.