A North Carolina man was sentenced this week to a nine year jail term for spamming millions of America Online users, America's first felony conviction for spewing junk mail.
Jeremy D. Jaynes, 30, and his sister, Jessica DeGroot, 28, were convicted under a Virginia state law that limits the number of emails mass marketers can send, and like the US federal CAN-SPAM Act, forbids them from using fake email addresses. Each was found guilty on three felony charges.
"This is a major victory for Virginians and all Americans," said Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore in a statement. "Spam is a nuisance to millions of Americans, but it is also a major problem for businesses large and small because the thousands of unwanted emails create havoc as they attempt to conduct commerce."
Jaynes, who went by several aliases, including Jeremy James and Gaven Stubberfield, was found guilty by a jury, which then recommended the nine year prison sentence. His sister was found guilty of buying domain names to use for spamming, but only fined US$7,500. An associate, Richard Rutkowski, 30, was found not guilty.
Although the three all hail from North Carolina, they were tried in Loudoun County, Virginia because they sent messages to America Online users. AOL has its servers at its Dulles headquarters.
When he was arrested last December, Jaynes was listed as the eighth most prolific spammer by Spamhaus, a US anti-spam organisation and clearing house. According to Kilgore, Jaynes and DeGroot used spam to advertise a variety of products and services, including penny stocks, low mortgage rates, and work at home schemes.
Prosecutors in the case alleged that Jaynes sent or tried to send 7.7 million messages to AOL subscribers in just one day, and reportedly raked in as much as US$400,000 a month in orders for just one of their products.
During the trial, Jaynes was said to have accumulated a fortune of some US$24 million by selling via spam.
"We've had the legislation in place and the technology to hunt down spammers, but we've rarely enforced the law," said Phyllis Schneck, the vice president of strategic development for CipherTrust, a US message security firm. "Spammers are simply not afraid. As long as their profit model stays the same, they'll keep spamming. But when there's a huge risk and possible jail time, that profit model changes."
The three defendants originally faced prison terms of up to 15 years. Jayne's attorney, David Oblon, was unavailable for comment, but the Associated Press quoted him as saying the sentence was out of sync with the crime. "Nine years is absolutely outrageous when you look at what we do to people convicted of crimes like robbery and rape," he was quoted as saying by the AP.
CipherTrust's Schneck disagreed. "These people have caused hundreds of thousands, and maybe millions, of dollars in damages, inconvenienced millions of people, caused untold lost hours of productivity," she said. "They deserved to be punished."
The landmark conviction, Schneck and others in the security business said, should put a damper on spam.
"The key to eradicating spam is education, legislation and enforcement, and using the best technology," said Schneck. "This case is a quintessential example of those three things. Education helped consumers report him, technology helped catch him, and the law prosecuted him. This shows that spam will not be tolerated in our society.
"It's true we've never seen more spam than we see now, but if convictions continue, we should see it reduced," she added. Schenk believes that spam can be wrestled into a manageable problem within the next two years.
Formal sentencing of Jaynes and DeGroot will take place in February 2005, and a judge will have the option then of changing the sentence, state officials said.
Issue: 315 | May 2013
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