Mississippi man denies Best Buy blackmail

Thomas E. Ray III pleads not guilty to charges that he threatened to reveal security weaknesses in the electronics seller's Web site unless the company paid him $2.5 million.

A Mississippi man pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges that he threatened to reveal security weaknesses in the Web site of electronics seller Best Buy unless the company paid him $2.5 million.

Federal prosecutors charged Thomas E. Ray III with two counts of extortion for allegedly sending threatening e-mail messages to Best Buy under the guise of "Jamie Weathersby" between Oct. 16 and Oct. 30 last year.

"This individual contacted us and said he found a security glitch and was going to use it to put customer data on our site unless we paid him $2.5 million," said Dawn Bryant, a Best Buy spokeswoman. The company contacted the FBI and, with the help of America Online and its Netscape Communications division, tracked down the apparent source of the e-mails.

Best Buy has found no evidence that its customers' data or accounts were compromised, Bryant said. "We were very confident that customer data was safe from very early on," she said.

Ray could not be contacted, and his attorney, Rick Petry, wasn't immediately available for comment.

The trial is tentatively scheduled to begin in mid-March. The charges could result in a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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