Former Mobile Phone Store Owner Sentenced to 10 Years in Federal Prison for Multimillion-Dollar Scheme to Illegally Unlock Cellphones

Former Mobile Phone Store Owner Sentenced to 10 Years in Federal Prison for Multimillion-Dollar Scheme to Illegally Unlock Cellphones

          LOS ANGELES – A former owner of a T-Mobile retail store in Eagle Rock was sentenced today to 120 months in federal prison for his multimillion-dollar scheme in which he stole T-Mobile employee credentials and illegally accessed the company’s internal computer systems to illicitly “unlock” and “unblock” cellphones.

          Argishti Khudaverdyan, 44, of Burbank, was sentenced by United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, who also ordered him to pay $28,473,535 in restitution.

          Khudaverdyan ran a multi-year scheme that illegally unlocked and unblocked cellphones, which generated tens of millions of dollars in criminal proceeds. During this time, most cellphone companies – including T-Mobile – “locked” their customers’ phones so they could be used only on the company’s network until the customers’ phone and service contracts had been fulfilled. If customers wanted to switch to a different carrier, their phones had to be “unlocked.” Carriers also “blocked” cellphones to protect consumers in the case of lost or stolen cellphones.

          From August 2014 to June 2019, Khudaverdyan fraudulently unlocked and unblocked cellphones on T-Mobile’s network, as well as the networks of Sprint, AT&T, and other carriers. Removing the unlock allowed the phones to be sold on the black market and enabled T-Mobile customers to stop using T-Mobile’s services and thereby deprive T-Mobile of revenue generated from customers’ service contracts and equipment installment plans.

          Khudaverdyan advertised his fraudulent unlocking services through brokers, email solicitations and websites. He falsely claimed the fraudulent unlocks that he provided were “official” T-Mobile unlocks.

          From January 2017 through June 2017, Khudaverdyan and a former business partner were also co-owners of Top Tier Solutions Inc., a T-Mobile store in Eagle Rock Plaza. However, after T-Mobile terminated Khudaverdyan’s contract in June 2017 based on his suspicious computer behavior and association with unauthorized unlocking of cellphones, Khudaverdyan continued his fraud.

          To gain unauthorized access to T-Mobile’s protected internal computers, Khudaverdyan obtained T-Mobile employees’ credentials through various dishonest means, including sending phishing emails that appeared to be legitimate T-Mobile correspondence, and socially engineering the T-Mobile IT Help Desk. Khudaverdyan used the fraudulent emails to trick T-Mobile employees to log in with their employee credentials so he could harvest the employees’ information and fraudulently unlock the phones.

          In total, Khudaverdyan and others compromised and stole more than 50 different T-Mobile employees’ credentials from employees across the United States, and they unlocked and unblocked hundreds of thousands of cellphones during the years of the scheme.

          Khudaverdyan obtained more than $25 million for these criminal activities. He used these illegal proceeds to pay for, among other things, real estate in Burbank and Northridge.

          In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors argued that Khudaverdyan was “a sophisticated fraudster with no remorse for his crimes. He personally caused millions of dollars in losses to wireless carriers while furthering the trafficking of lost and stolen cell phones.”

          At the conclusion of a four-day trial, a federal jury on August 1 found Khudaverdyan of 14 felonies: one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of wire fraud, two counts of accessing a computer to defraud and obtain value, one count of intentionally accessing a computer without authorization to obtain information, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, five counts of money laundering, and one count of aggravated identity theft.

          Alen Gharehbagloo, 43, of La Cañada Flintridge, a co-defendant and a former co-owner of Top Tier Solutions Inc., pleaded guilty on July 5 to three felonies: conspiracy to commit wire fraud, accessing a protected computer with intent to defraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 13, 2023.

          The United States Secret Service’s Cyber Fraud Task Force (CFTF) and IRS Criminal Investigation investigated this matter. The CFTF includes representatives of the United States Secret Service, the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and the California Highway Patrol.

          Assistant United States Attorneys Lisa E. Feldman and Andrew M. Roach of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section prosecuted this case. Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan S. Galatzan, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture and Recovery Section, is handling the asset forfeiture portion of this case.

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