Associated Press Writer
STERLING, Va. - Two North Carolina men face up to 20 years in prison for allegedly operating one of the most prolific spamming operations in the world.
Jeremy Jaynes - who uses the aliases of Jeremy James and Gaven Stubberfield - and Richard Rutowski each face "four felony counts of transmission of unsolicited bulk electronic mail," Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said Thursday.
The indictments, returned Monday by a grand jury in Loudoun County, Va., were based on Virginia's antispam law which took effect July 1. Kilgore's office launched its investigation into what he described as a massive spamming operation that used the America Online computer network which is headquartered in the county.
"This was a very profitable business for these two individuals and I don't know of any legitimate business that they had," said Kilgore. Although investigators declined to say how much income they believe the spam scheme generated, they said both men were supporting affluent lifestyles.
"Gaven Stubberfield is number eight on the top 10 worldwide spammer list," said Kilgore, citing complaints reported to Internet service providers and tabulated by spamhaus.org. Between July 11 and Aug. 11, more than 100,000 complaints on spam messages linked to the two men were reported, Kilgore said. On at least three days, more than 10,000 messages were transmitted.
"The defendants falsified or forged electronic mail transmission information, or other routing information," said Kilgore. The volume of messages and efforts to conceal their true identities have elevated prosecution of the case to felony level.
The spam included "penny-picker stock schemes, mortgage interest rate ads and an Internet history eraser," said Lisa Hicks-Thomas, director of Virginia's computer crime unit in Kilgore's office.
More than 50 percent of all Internet traffic across the world passes through Virginia because AOL and 1,300 service providers or technology companies are located in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington.
There are "1.5 billion e-mails blocked a day through AOL's spam filters and other technical measures we take," said Curtis P. Lu, deputy general counsel for the company. The indictments were announced at AOL headquarters.
"The filters that have been created to block out spam are such that it's catching lots and lots of legitimate businesses now," said Bobbie Green Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
Jaynes, 29, of Raleigh, N.C., is being held pending a request for extradition. Rutowski, of Cary, N.C., is expected to surrender to authorities under terms being worked out through his attorney.
According to Kilgore, Virginia has the strongest anti-spam law in the country. While other states can take civil actions, Virginia is the only one that can prosecute spammers for violating specific criminal charges related to the activity.
Federal legislation allowing for the criminal prosecution of spammers has been passed by Congress and is awaiting President Bush's signature, but Kilgore intends to continue pursuing such cases.
The Virginia case will be the first felony prosecution for violation of antispam statutes in the nation. Howard Carmack, 36, of Buffalo, N.Y., was indicted in May for allegedly using stolen identities to create Internet accounts from which he sent more than 825 million junk e-mail messages, but he was charged with identity theft.
Atlanta-based ISP Earthlink was awarded $16.4 million after suing Carmack for using 343 false identities to establish e-mail accounts.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)