From troubled youth to notorious pirate: YouTuber, Gears TV founder sentenced to prison

A YouTube personality who operated one of the most-notorious illegal streaming television services has been sentenced to over five years in federal prison for his role in committing serious copyright infringement against several major cable and satellite companies.

The case brought against Bill Omar Carrasquillo two years ago effectively ended this week with his sentence, which was significantly lower than the statutory maximum he faced and well under the 20 years that government prosecutors argued he technically deserved.

Carrasquillo was arrested in late 2021 for his role in founding and operating the illicitly streaming service Gears TV, which offered hundreds of local broadcast and cable channels culled from legitimate pay TV providers at below-market costs.

In court filings reviewed by Fierce Video, federal prosecutors argued Carrasquillo and two co-defendants signed up for legitimate accounts with Comcast, Verizon Fios, DirecTV and other companies connected to various residential addresses in the Philadelphia area, only to strip television signals of their copy protection mechanisms and retransmit them over the Internet for about one-tenth of a normal cable or satellite bill.

In pre-sentence statements filed several weeks ago, federal prosecutors argued Carrasquillo should have been sentenced to a possible maximum of nearly 20 years in prison, pointing to guidelines that judges must consider when crafting a sentence for a criminal defendant. They also argued Carrasquillo should be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars that he collected through his illegal TV service.

But even the government's own attorneys offered a rare hand of leniency, suggesting a 20-year sentence could be too much given Carrasquillo's numerous behavioral health problems associated with his troubled upbringing.

An early life of trauma

Carrasquillo was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, the home to Comcast, a company that unwittingly helped his illegal service while at the same time competing with it.

He was one of 38 children born to a mother who abused him emotionally and physically, and a father who spent time in and out of jail. The people who should have taken care of Carrasquillo didn't: As a young child, his caregiver allegedly had him committed to mental institutions, so they could obtain prescription medication to sell illegally. When he turned to other adults for help, he was accused of lying about the abuse. He was ultimately cast out of his own family.

By all expectations, Carrasquillo should have blossomed into a troubled teenager and young adult. For a while, he met those expectations: His father taught him how to sell drugs on the streets of Philadelphia, and by the age of 12, he was making drug deals of his own. He dropped out of high school at 17, and was arrested multiple times by the police, mostly for minor offenses. By the time he turned 26, he had four serious criminal convictions to his name.

Children subjected to the type of trauma Carrasquillo faced typically view abuse and neglect as having little outward consequences. Accordingly, the line between right and wrong is often blurred to the point of being unrecognizable, and that lesson stays with someone well through their adult life.

But by the age of 26, Carrasquillo had enough of that life. He vowed to do whatever it took to stay off the streets, to become a good person, the type of man no one expected him to be.

Carrasquillo found solace on YouTube, where he consumed videos about online advertising and marketing. He studied community building, zeroing in on the elements that bring people together. At one point, he stumbled upon an Amazon business that sold streaming boxes filled with classic television shows, most of which were in the public domain.

Eventually, he launched his own channel. It grew to become "Omi in a Hellcat." He crafted himself as an expert on marketing, advertising and sales, focused largely on media. Noticing those streaming boxes sold on Amazon were unreliable, he reached out to developers to see how hard it would be to make his own streaming devices with similar public domain content. It wasn't hard at all, he was told, and he soon entered that business. It was a wild success, and he soon had enough money to hire and care for his family and friends.

Crossing the line

Carrasquillo's passion for the media business ultimately got out of hand. After noticing copycat streaming boxes and apps hitting the market, he decided to differentiate himself by adding copyrighted recordings to his devices.

Defense attorneys argue that was the moment Carrasquillo crossed the line from operating a legitimate business to a criminal enterprise.

"Omar knows he went too far with his product in his efforts to stay competitive, and he broke the law," Carrasquillo's attorneys argued in a court filing obtained by Fierce Video. "Once he added copyrighted works, it became a felony criminal activity. He acknowledges this should not have happened."

But it did happen, and Carrasquillo eventually co-opted others to help him with his service.

The service, Gears TV, started with just a few channels, pulled from a Comcast subscription at Carrasquillo's Philadelphia home. For just a few dollars a month, Gears TV promised to deliver the same live broadcast and cable networks that users could find on more expensive cable and satellite platforms.

The convenience of streaming coupled with the long-term savings over cable and satellite was hard for many to pass up. Gears TV quickly found an audience, and as the service attracted new customers, Carrasquillo brought on two business partners to grow his illegal media empire.

Over the course of several years, Carrasquillo and his business partners used around a half-dozen addresses to sign up for residential accounts with Charter's Spectrum TV, Verizon Fios, DirecTV and Frontier. Gears TV grew to over 770 channels, prosecutors said, with service sold somewhere between $15 and $20 a month — well below the $120 that the average cable company was charging.

Eventually, Gears TV wound up serving more than 770 channels at a cost of between $15 and $20 per month. Carrasquillo and his partners used several addresses in the Philadelphia area to sign up for residential accounts with Verizon Fios, DirecTV and others to gain access to a large portfolio of regional sports networks, cable news and entertainment channels.

Carrasquillo quickly amassed a large amount of personal wealth. He used his money to buy ritzy properties and flashy sports cars for himself and his family. His success was on full display through his Omi in a Hellcat YouTube channel, which was wildly popular on its own.

Those videos eventually caught the attention of the Internal Revenue Service, who probed Carrasquillo's failure to pay complete taxes on what he earned between 2016 and 2019. The FBI eventually raided his home, seizing some of his luxury cars and millions in cash. In September 2021, a grand jury indicted him on more than 60 criminal charges ranging from tax evasion to felony copyright infringement. The Gears TV service subsequently shut down.

'Don't put me in jail'

Prior to his arrest, Carrasquillo sensed something was coming.

In a YouTube video uploaded to the "Omi in a Hellcat" account and reviewed by Fierce Video, Carrasquillo said he believed criminal charges against him were forthcoming and asked for an opportunity to make things right.

"Don't put me in jail," he pleaded in the video. "What the hell is that going to do? I'm not a threat to society...let me pay off my debts, the millions of dollars that I owe you."

Shortly after his arrest, Carrasquillo posted another video — "The FBI Seized Everything from Me" — in which he downplayed the seriousness of his illegal activities, likening Gears TV to a party at a home where friends chip in to pay for a pay-per-view event.

"I'm only guilty of making money," Carrasquillo asserted.

Prosecutors saw things very differently. In court filings, attorneys for the Department of Justice said the sophistication of Gears TV — Carrasquillo and his partners reportedly secured hardware from China to strip copyright protection mechanisms from the cable and satellite signals they stole — meant they knew what they were doing was, at the very least, wrong.

In sentencing documents, prosecutors used a convoluted formula of Gears TV's subscriber count — at its height, it was estimated to be around 1.8 million — and the average cost of a cable or satellite subscription to determine that Comcast, Verizon and the other companies lost as much as $221 million during the time period that Carrasquillo's streaming service operated.

Cable and satellite companies make for unsympathetic victims: They charge customers high fees, they generate revenue in the billions of dollars, and the thousands of employees who work for them are generally hidden behind household brand names, clean logos and catchy slogans.

But even Carrasquillo ultimately came around to the idea that Gears TV caused serious harm. On Tuesday, he spoke in open court about watching a documentary that took viewers behind the scenes of Disney's Pixar film studio. There, he was exposed to the large number of people it takes to pull off a feature-length movie or hit television show. He spent his whole adult life trying to provide for his family, after living a childhood where no one provided for him. The people who work at media companies try just as hard to provide for their families, too. And he stole from them.

Shortly after his allocution, a judge imposed a prison sentence of 5.5 years — about one-quarter of what prosecutors said he could have earned under the sentencing guidelines. The judge appeared persuaded that Carrasquillo's tough upbringing warranted a serious downward departure, but he still needed to be held to account for what he did. With good conduct, programming and work credits, Carrasquillo could be released from prison in about two years.

The judge also ordered Carrasquillo to pay around $15 million in restitution to the cable companies and the IRS. The government will also be allowed to keep several properties and sports cars that were seized in 2019. This week, Omi lost his Hellcat.

Held to account

In a statement, an executive with the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) said the sentence imposed against Carrasquillo reflects the severity of what he did and should serve as a message to other content pirates and the customers who purchase their services.

"There is no justification for the illegal streaming of content, and the sentencing of these felons confirms yet again that violators will face serious consequences," the executive, Jan van Voorn, said in a statement sent to Fierce Video. "ACE currently has similar cases in the pipeline, and we are committed to taking action against those involved in commercial-scale content piracy schemes as part of our global mission to protect the legal creative marketplace."

Federal law enforcement officials also appear satisfied with the outcome of the case.

"Making money off of someone else’s copyrighted work is theft, plain and simple," Jacqueline Maguire, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia field office, said on Wednesday. "Mr. Carrasquillo hijacked all of this content, sold it to his subscribers, and lived large off the illegal proceeds. Today’s sentence should send a message that willfully stealing another party’s intellectual property is a serious crime, and the FBI is committed to holding violators accountable."

Carrasquillo's defense attorneys say their client is committed to setting things right when he is released from prison. He is expected to continue focusing on his other businesses — including his YouTube channel and a merchandise operation that he started during his court case — all of which Carrasquillo swears are legal.