St. Augustine Man Pleads Guilty To Remotely Deleting Contents Of His iPhone After Federal Agents Seized It During The Execution Of A Search Warrant

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FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Department of Justice Building is pictured

Jacksonville, Florida – United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces that Gabriel Basart (33, St. Augustine) today pleaded guilty to destroying evidence with the purpose of preventing and impairing the United States’ lawful authority to take and search that evidence pursuant to a lawful search warrant. Basart faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

According to the plea agreement, Basart is the president of GB Blue Tech Inc.  This company ostensibly operated out of Basart’s home, had no other employees, and maintained accounts at four banks. In September and October 2017, those bank accounts were used in a series of business email compromise fraud schemes.  Perpetrators of the schemes sent emails to corporate employees that appeared to be – but were not – legitimate correspondence either from within the company or from suppliers. These fraudulent emails contained wire transfer instructions directing employees to wire funds to GB Blue Tech bank accounts. Investigators determined that the fraudulent emails originated in various locations (principally in Nigeria), but not in St. Augustine, where Basart lived.  Believing the fraudulent wire transfer instructions in these emails to be legitimate, the victim-employees relied upon them to complete transfers to the GB Blue Tech bank accounts, which were controlled by Basart. 

After funds were transferred to GB Blue Tech’s accounts, on certain occasions, the fraud was detected and the funds were either returned to their legitimate owner or frozen in place by the banks. On other occasions, when the fraud was not detected in time, the bulk of the money was transferred to business accounts in the People’s Republic of China. The remainder was either transferred to Basart’s personal bank accounts or withdrawn in cash. A total of approximately $22,192 was transferred (electronically or by check) to Basart’s personal bank accounts and approximately $41,000 total in cash was withdrawn.

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On March 9, 2018, after obtaining a federal search warrant, a team of law enforcement officers and agents went to Basart’s home to search it and his electronic devices. Basart was present as the agents seized various electronic devices, including Basart’s iPhone. After an agent read Basart the search warrant, Basart demanded that he be permitted to leave. The agents told Basart that he could not take any items with him, but that he was free to leave his home, which he did.

Later that day, an agent observed that Basart’s iPhone had been “factory reset.” In other words, all user created data (such as text messages and emails) had been deleted from the iPhone and it had been restored to the original state of a device, as if it were new from the factory. A forensic examination of the phone and records from the Apple Corporation later established that after Basart left the agents behind at his home, he logged into his Apple account and remotely factory reset his phone, deleting all user created data.

In addition to pleading guilty to deleting the contents of his phone, Basart has agreed to forfeit $533,950.50, which are traceable to proceeds of the business email compromise schemes. Further, Basart has agreed to pay restitution to the victims of those schemes in the amount of $405,719.11. 

This case was investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Secret Service. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Coolican.

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