First Convicted Spammers Face Jail Time and Criminal Fines
Earlier this month, in the nation’s first felony spam trial, a brother and sister team were convicted under Virginia’s anti-spam law for sending junk email to millions of America Online customers. Jeremy Jaynes, 30, and Jessica DeGroot, 28, were found guilty of three counts each of sending emails with fraudulent and untraceable routing information. A third defendant was acquitted.
Prosecutors described the defendants as modern-day snake oil salesmen. According to prosecutors, Jaynes was making $500,000 per month selling worthless products (including a FedEx refund processor, an Internet history eraser, and a penny stock picker) over the Internet. The defendants circumvented Internet service providers’ spam filters by forging IP addresses for the phoney businesses they set up to send the spam. Evidence seized from Jaynes’ home included computer disks with 84 million AOL email addresses and email logs on a personal computer indicating that it was sending large volumes of email. Coincidentally, federal prosecutors in New York charged a former AOL engineer earlier this year with stealing 92 million AOL screen names and selling them to a spammer.
Although Jaynes was the mastermind behind the enterprise, DeGroot allowed her credit card to be used to purchase domain names under a fictitious name. The defense argued that prosecutors did not have sufficient evidence of DeGroot’s intent to participate in the scheme.
They also argued that prosecutors failed topresent evidence that the emails sent by the defendants were unsolicited. The jury disagreed.
Prosecutors asked for a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for Jaynes. The jury recommended nine years’ imprisonment for Jaynes and a $7500 fine for his sister. The sentencing is scheduled for this February.
Although all three defendants were from North Carolina, the trial was held in Loudoun County, Virginia, because the spam flowed through an AOL server located there. It is estimated that 80% of all Internet traffic flows through Virginia.
The Virginia law under which Jaynes and DeGroot were convicted went into effect on July 1, 2003. Virginia’s Attorney General has stated that he believes the law is necessary to protect the public from a nuisance and to prevent spammers from wrecking havoc on businesses. Both Virginia and California enacted anti-spam laws in 2003. Maryland passed anti-spam legislation in 2004. The state of Washington enacted the nation’s first anti-spam law in 1998 but then repealed it in 1999.
Federal anti-spam legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate, although no federal anti-spam law has yet been enacted. The author of this article is Chair of the Computer Programs Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Intellectual Property Law. That committee is charged with reporting to the ABA on anti-spam developments throughout the country.