The case centered on allegations that the three distributed bulk e-mail advertising pornographic Web sites and containing explicit images of adults having sex. The unsolicited e-mails may have numbered in the tens of millions, the Justice Department said.
The grand jury issued indictments against former Arizona resident Jennifer R. Clason, 32; Jeffrey A. Kilbride, 39, of California; and James R. Schaffer, 39, of Arizona.
A fourth person involved in the case, Andrew Ellifson, 31, pleaded guilty last February to one countand one count of criminal conspiracy. His conviction marked the first related to the distribution of obscene spam e-mails, the department said.
The defendants allegedly sent the spam to earn commissions and configured the e-mails to make it difficult to ascertain the identity of the sender by falsifying the "from" line in e-mails and sending the spam from Internet Protocol addresses registered in the Netherlands while the domain names were registered in Mauritius.
Federal investigators noted that from January through June of 2004, America Online received more than 600,000 complaints regarding obscene e-mail that allegedly had been sent by the defendants. Investigators also pointed to data collected by Spamhaus, a nonprofit agency, that they say shows the defendants' operation to be among the 200 largest in the world and one that may have generated tens of millions of unsolicited bulk e-mails.
A nine-count indictment was issued to the three defendants. Each was indicted on two counts of fraud under the Can-Spam Act and one count of criminal conspiracy. Under the Can-Spam Act, it is illegal to distribute unsolicited commercial bulk e-mail.
Two of the defendants, Kilbride and Schaffer, also were indicted on two counts of interstate transportation of obscene material using a computer service, two counts of interstate transportation of obscene material and one count of money laundering.
"The Internet is both a blessing and a curse. Unwanted e-mail and pornography in our houses represents a kind of home invasion," Paul Charlton, U.S. Attorney of the Arizona District, said in a statement.