Omi in a Hellcat, Prominent YouTuber, Is Charged in $30 million Fraud Scheme

A flamboyant YouTuber known as Omi in a Hellcat was charged with illegally selling copyrighted TV shows and movies through an online service, prosecutors said.,

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On YouTube, he was known as Omi in a Hellcat, a flamboyant business mogul in diamond-studded jewelry who commanded a fleet of luxury cars including Lamborghinis and ran his own clothing line and restaurant.

But even as he lounged in his sprawling suburban home and showed off his rotating collection of high-end sports cars, he acknowledged that the federal government was closing in.

In June, he posted a video titled, “THE FBI IS BACK!!!,” in which he filmed himself wearing a large diamond-encrusted pendant that bore his brand name, Reloaded. In a doleful mood, he warned his 790,000 subscribers that the F.B.I. had seized more than 30 of his cars and millions of dollars from his bank account and that he was going to be indicted on charges that could include money laundering.

“I’ve been kind of been depressed about it,” he confessed.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors said that they had charged Omi, whose real name is Bill Omar Carrasquillo, and two of his associates, in a scheme that involved illegally selling copyrighted video content to thousands of subscribers on Mr. Carrasquillo’s own online service, which was called, at various times, Reboot, Gears TV, Reloaded and Gears Reloaded.

The scheme netted Mr. Carrasquillo and his associates more than $30 million from about March 2016 until at least November 2019, according to prosecutors. Mr. Carrasquillo, 35, of Swedesboro, N.J., used the money to buy houses and dozens of cars, including the ones that he regularly flaunted on his YouTube channel, prosecutors said.

Mr. Carrasquillo could face life in prison if he is convicted of the charges, which include conspiracy, violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, reproduction of a protected work, access device fraud, making false statements to a bank and money laundering.

Digital piracy schemes have proliferated in recent years, and a 2019 report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that they cost the American economy at least $29.2 billion a year.

In an indictment, prosecutors said, Mr. Carrasquillo and his associates, Jesse Gonzales, 42, of Pico Rivera, Calif., and Michael Barone, 36, of Richmond Hill, N.Y., must forfeit nearly $35 million in assets, including more than 50 cars and motorcycles and dozens of properties in Philadelphia.

“You can’t just go and monetize someone else’s copyrighted content with impunity,” Bradley S. Benavides, the acting special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Philadelphia division, said in a statement. “That’s the whole point of securing a copyright.”

Donte Mills, Mr. Carrasquillo’s lawyer, said his client denied the charges.

“Mr. Carrasquillo tapped into a brand-new, unregulated industry and was very successful,” Mr. Mills said in a statement. “Most people are called pioneers when they do that; Omar is called a criminal. The government assumes my client was not smart enough to do this legally because of his background. He is and we will prove that.”

Kathryn Roberts, a lawyer for Mr. Barone, said she had just been appointed to the case and had no immediate comment. It was not immediately clear who was representing Mr. Gonzales.

Mr. Carrasquillo has said he dropped out of school in the 11th grade when he was jailed for selling drugs. He started to get his life together in 2012, he said in an interview on YouTube, and sold drugs for the last time in 2014.

After a stint selling DVDs, he said, he started buying gear on Amazon and reselling it as well as created an app called Gears TV. He became a millionaire after a year, he said, and bought a Camaro and then a Bentley, indulging in his love of cars.

“That’s when everything started,” he said. “Life started to change real quick.”

In the YouTube interview, in late 2019, Mr. Carrasquillo described building what he called a legitimate business, even as he acknowledged that his cable equipment had been seized by federal agents.

“It was a straight streaming app,” he said. “I wasn’t stealing channels. I was paying for my cable boxes. I was paying for my cable service. And that’s why I’m so comfortable talking about it.”

According to the indictment, Mr. Carrasquillo and his associates ran an online service that provided TV shows and movies in exchange for a fee. They also ran an online library of movies, called STREAMS R US or SRIJ, the indictment states.

The men obtained the content by subscribing to legitimate cable and video services from Comcast, Verizon, Charter, DirecTV and Frontier, the indictment states.

They then set up cable boxes and other devices to access the content in at least seven different homes in Philadelphia, as well as in places in California and New York, the indictment states.

Using encoders imported from China, they stripped digital copyright protections from the video content on the devices, which allowed the content to be transmitted over the internet and copied to computer servers, the indictment states.

Subscribers could access the video content on websites that the men had set up, the indictment states. The service even included “a subscriber interface, akin to a TV Guide,” that allowed users to browse a list of the programs that were available for viewing, the indictment states.

When the men signed up for the legitimate cable services from Comcast and other companies, they never disclosed that they “intended to copy, transmit and stream the video content to thousands of their own subscribers,” the indictment states.

In the video about his mounting legal troubles that he posted to his YouTube channel in June, Mr. Carrasquillo lamented the investigation into his enterprise and asked the authorities to “at least give me a chance to pay them what they think I owe them.”

“Don’t put me in a jail,” he said. “What the hell is that going to do? I’m not a threat to society,” he continued, salting his speech with expletives. “Let me pay off my debts, the millions of dollars that I owe you, and I’ll slap it off and then we’ll all go about our way.”

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