YouTuber charged with operating illegal streaming TV service

A popular YouTube personality and two other individuals are facing criminal charges for allegedly operating a large-scale pirate television service over the Internet.

Bill Omar Carrasquillo of Pennsylvania, Michael Barone of New York and Jesse Gonzalez of California face more than sixty criminal counts related to copyright infringement, wire fraud, making false statements and tax evasion in connection with the operation of a handful of IP-based streaming services that went by the name "Gears," "Reloaded" and "Streams R Us."

According to a grand jury indictment unsealed this week, the three men opened residential accounts with several cable and satellite companies in order to acquire the signals of broadcast and pay television channels, then used equipment purchased from China to strip those channels of encryption protections that are meant to ensure only authorized customers receive that programming.

The indictment named Comcast, Charter, Frontier, DirecTV and Verizon among the companies whose programming was targeted by the alleged infringers. The criminal case is being brought in the federal Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia, where Comcast's headquarters are located.

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The case began a few years ago when Internal Revenue Service auditors began probing Carrasquillo for failing to file timely tax returns from 2016 to 2019, around the same time period Carrasquillo and others were allegedly operating the pirate streaming television services. The services were shut down in 2019 when FBI agents raided Carrasquillo's Pennsylvania home, seizing several luxury vehicles and millions of dollars in cash.

In several media interviews and videos posted to YouTube, Carrasquillo denied any wrongdoing and said his streaming services operated in a legal "gray area."

The indictment handed down this week likely did not come as a surprise to him: In a 30-minute video posted to YouTube in late June, Carrasquillo — who went by the name "Omi in a Hellcat" — said he expected to be charged in either July or August, though he thought the charges would be related to his alleged failure to report income and pay taxes on it.

"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."

In the video, Carrasquillo claimed a lawyer advised him that his streaming service was operating in a legal "gray area," but said he felt confident his product was otherwise not illegal.

But the grand jury said otherwise, pointing to more than a dozen programs that were supposedly streamed through the service in a way that purportedly violates various copyright laws. Those shows included Showtime's "Shameless," HBO's "Game of Thrones," game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and a local news broadcast from Sinclair-owned Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO-TV (Channel 7).

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Barone and Gonzalez are accused of providing support to Carrasquillo's operation by agreeing to install devices that captured live TV signals in order to distribute them over the Internet and by facilitating financial transaction to secure equipment and hosting services related to the pirate TV service.

The indictment seeks the forfeiture of more than $34 million in cash and assets, including $5.2 million in cash that was confiscated from Carrasquillo's bank account, dozens of vehicles and property from at least four dozen addresses connected to his operation.

It was not clear if any of the three indicted men were in custody as of Tuesday morning.