LEESBURG, VIRGINIA—The first felony convictions for spam in U.S. history were handed down when a jury in America Online Inc.s home county convicted a pair of North Carolina spammers on Wednesday, recommending that one be sent to prison.
Jeremy Jaynes was sentenced to nine years in prison, while his sister, Jessica DeGroot, was fined $7,500.00. Both are from the Raleigh, N.C., area. A third defendant, Richard Rutkowski, also from the Raleigh area, was acquitted.
The relevant Virginia law covers spam sent to or received by a computer in Virginia and to any spam traffic that passes through Virginia. According to a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, over half of the worlds Internet traffic passes through Northern Virginia.
The trial was held in Loudon County because the spammers targeted AOLs customers. AOL is based in Dulles, Va., which is located in that county.
Anti-spam activists were delighted. “We are very pleased the Virginia jury recommended nine years, even though its likely that on sentencing Jaynes will get less,” said Steve Linford, with The Spamhaus Project. “It sends the right message to the rest of the U.S.-based spammers—such as Michigan spam king Alan Ralsky, currently pumping millions of spams out illegally through hijacked proxies—that jail time is waiting for them.”
In testimony that spanned five days, defense attorneys asserted that state officials had failed to prove that recipients hadnt wanted the spam they received—an argument the jury ultimately rejected.
Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General, in Richmond, said that the verdict was important in that it sends a strong message to spammers. “It tells these illegal spammers, who are located across the country, that there are consequences,” he said.
Murtaugh said the Attorney Generals office actually wrote the law that was enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in 2003. That law has since been used as a model by other states, including Maryland, and as a model for the federal CAN SPAM act, passed last year.
Murtaugh said that he hopes Virginias action will encourage other states to pass similar laws and to prosecute spammers.
Executives for AOL, which was the victim that led to the spam arrest and ultimate conviction, said the company was involved in the prosecution, with company lawyers in the courtroom. The company also provided AOL employees as witnesses.
AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said the news of the conviction was welcome. “Its a milestone in the fight against spam,” Graham said. “Weve worked a long time to see this take place.”
Graham said that AOL is also encouraging other states to adopt laws similar to the statutes in Virginia. “We hope other states will see the wisdom of having these statutes on the books,” Graham said. “These are the kinds of laws with teeth and tough penalties that act as a deterrent for those who send spam by falsified means.”
Murtaugh said that other states have already contacted Virginia officials about adopting similar laws, and that more cases are on the way. He declined to give details of other investigations, other than to say that they were forthcoming and that the state already has indicted a Fort Worth, Texas, spammer.
“Spam is more than just a nuisance. It creates logjams and costs business billions of dollars, and theres also a cost in time,” Murtaugh said. “Its very damaging.”
Prosecutors said that during the investigation in a search of Jaynes home, investigators found computers containing addresses for millions of AOL customers and the computer equipment that had actually sent the spam.
Murtaugh said that as important as this conviction was, it was just a first step. “By no means does this eliminate spam,” he said, adding that it does put others on warning that the same thing can happen to them.
Plowman noted that the conviction was critical for several reasons. “It was a major victory for the attorney general and our general assembly that spearheaded this legislation,” he said, adding that it was also a significant victory for everyday Internet users and consumers, as well as for the industry.
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