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A YouTuber was charged with stealing TV shows for his own streaming platform. His arrest was broadcast live.

·3 min read
A YouTuber was charged with stealing TV shows for his own streaming platform. His arrest was broadcast live.

In the foyer of his New Jersey home on Tuesday, Bill Omar Carrasquillo wore only neon yellow underwear as federal agents placed him in handcuffs.

For close to two years, Carrasquillo, who flaunted his glittering jewelry and sizable car collection to his hundreds of thousands of YouTube followers, said he knew the day was coming. Carrasquillo, who goes by Omi in a Hellcat online, even told a local news station that his arrest was "100 percent a relief" because he will finally get his day in court.

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In November 2019, federal agents raided his home, seizing cars, cameras and televisions, he told his YouTube followers. "I'm going to go to jail for a few years," he said in the video posted after the raid. It has been viewed nearly 2 million times.

In an indictment unsealed Tuesday, prosecutors accuse Carrasquillo and two associates of stealing copyrighted material from cable companies and redistributing that content through a streaming service Carrasquillo set up and charged customers to use. From March 2016 until about November 2019, Carraquillo and his partners earned more than $30 million - money he used to buy large homes and fast cars that he flaunted on social media, prosecutors say.

If convicted, Carrasquillo doesn't face a "few years," as he indicated, but rather a maximum of 514 years, prosecutors said.

Carrasquillo has publicly admitted to running a streaming business - a so-called Internet protocol television service, or IPTV - but he has long maintained that he was not doing anything illegal. "I found a loophole, I ran through it, and I did great," he told WTXF in his driveway this week after he was released from jail on $50,000 bail.

In an email to The Washington Post, Carrasquillo's lawyer, Donte Mills, reiterated Carrasquillo's contention that his business was above board, and he plans to prove that in court.

"Mr. Carrasquillo tapped into a brand new, unregulated, industry and was very successful," Mills wrote. "Most people are called pioneers when they do that; Omar is called a criminal."

Carrasquillo, 35, has portrayed himself as a self-made millionaire. In an interview with a fellow YouTuber in 2019, Carrasquillo spoke of his transformation from a teenager who had spent time in jail for drug dealing into an entrepreneur who could broadcast his riches to his followers on social media. As of Thursday, Carrasquillo has about 790,000 YouTube followers, and 1 million followers on Instagram.

Prosecutors, however, say the way he made much of his money was illegal. Carrasquillo and his associates, prosecutors allege, stole copyrighted content by subscribing to service providers like Comcast and DirecTV, stripping digital copyrights and moving television shows and movies onto private servers using special encoders imported from China. Carrasquillo's company would then redistribute that content through its own platforms.

"You can't just go and monetize someone else's copyrighted content with impunity," Bradley S. Benavides, acting special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division, said in a statement. "That's the whole point of securing a copyright."

So-called IPTV services have become a $1 billion industry, according to a recent study by Digital Citizens Alliance, a group focused on Internet safety. They are lucrative for their operators, who pay nothing for the content they distribute and can therefore operate with sizable profit margins, the study said.

In August 2019, a federal grand jury charged eight individuals for operating Jetflicks, which redistributed "tens of thousands" of copyrighted television episodes to subscribers, according to prosecutors.

On Tuesday, a woman in Carrasquillo's house broadcast his arrest on Instagram Live; part of the live stream was posted to YouTube. Federal agents swarmed the house and led Carrasquillo out in handcuffs after he put clothes on.

In addition to prison time, prosecutors are seeking to have Carrasquillo and his partners forfeit close to $35 million, as well as dozens of cars, including multiple Lamborghinis, according to the indictment.

"I don't think I ever did anything wrong," Carrasquillo said from his driveway this week. "We are going to have our day in court now."

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