A Miami man has been charged with stealing more than 10 million minutes of VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone service and then selling them to unsuspecting customers for as little as US$0.004 per minute.

Edwin Pena paid a Washington State computer hacker named Robert Moore about $20,000 to help him illegally route Internet telephone calls through the networks of more than 15 unnamed VOIP companies, according to criminal complaints made available (PDF) by the US Attorney's Office.

Pena presented himself as a legitimate telecommunications wholesaler, while at the same time using hacking techniques to steal networking services valued at as much as $300,000 from each of the carriers.

"They had hoped they had engineered a brilliant toll-free calling network for themselves," said Newark FBI Special Agent Charge Leslie Wiser Jr. in the statement. "They hoped wrong."

Pena has been charged with wire fraud for violating computer hacking laws, according to the US Attorney.

Starting in November 2004, the 23 year-old sold Internet telecom services at inexpensive wholesale prices through his two companies: Fortes Telecom and Miami Tech & Consulting. The telephone service was free for Pena, however, because he was using hacked lines with legitimate VOIP providers and routing the calls without being detected, the complaint states.

Pena and Moore allegedly set up a web of servers to hide their tracks and they flooded VOIP providers with test calls, trying to guess the proprietary prefix codes used to authenticate VOIP calls on the network. Once they had cracked the codes, the two would be able to route their calls through the legitimate VOIP network, the US Attorney said.

With more than $1 million in profits from the scheme, Pena was able to buy real estate, a 40-foot motor boat and customised 2004 BMW M3 sports car, the US Attorney said.