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Virginia files felony spam charges

The state's attorney general announces that his office made its first felony indictment under Virginia's antispam law. The charges are filed against two North Carolina residents.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
2 min read
Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore announced Thursday that his office had made its first felony indictment under the state's antispam law.

The charges were filed against North Carolina resident Jeremy Jaynes, also known under the pseudonym "Gaven Stubberfield," for allegedly using fraudulent means to transmit unsolicited bulk e-mail. Jaynes was arrested Thursday morning in Raleigh, N.C., and will be extradited to Virginia, Kilgore's office said.

Kilgore's office said an arrest warrant also was issued for Richard Rutowski, an associate of Jaynes, on the same charges. Rutowski had not yet turned himself in as of late Thursday, a representative for Kilgore said.

According to antispam organization Spamhaus, "Stubberfield" is well-known for pornographic and "get rich quick" offers online and was ranked No. 8 on the group's top 10 spammers list for November. The charges were based in part on reports from America Online subscribers. Kilgore announced the indictment at AOL headquarters.

"Falsification (of e-mail headers or routing information) prevents the receiver from knowing who sent the spam or contacting them through the 'from address' of the e-mail," Kilgore said in a statement. "This is what makes this e-mail a crime in Virginia, and the volume that was sent during this period elevates the charge to a felony."

The criminal indictment is a sign of a growing focus, at both the state and federal level, on bringing the growing daily bulk of unsolicited e-mail under control.

However, policies at the state and federal level have diverged with the recent passage of the federal Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (Can-Spam) Act.

The federal bill, which has not yet been signed by President Bush, would continue to outlaw falsifying e-mail headers to mask an e-mailer's identity. But antispam activists say the proposal would in fact make the problem worse by allowing businesses to send unsolicited e-mail legally as long as it was accompanied by an "opt out" link.

"Anyone with any sense would, of course, realize that if Can-Spam becomes law, opting out of spammers' lists will very likely become the main daytime activity for most U.S. e-mail users in 2004," reads a Spamhaus analysis of the bill. "The second main activity will be sorting through mailboxes crammed with 'legal' spam every few minutes to see if there's any e-mail amongst the spam."

The Virginia indictment alleges that Jaynes sent more than 10,000 e-mails a day on three days in July and August, through servers located in Virginia. More than 100,000 messages were sent over a 30-day period, it says. Those amounts are enough to trigger the criminal provisions of Virginia's antispam law.

Jaynes faces four felony charges, each of which carries a penalty of one to five years in prison, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.

"We applaud Attorney General Kilgore's swift action to vigorously enforce Virginia's tough antispam law," Curtis Lu, AOL deputy general counsel, said in a statement. "Spammers who use outlaw tactics of falsification may find themselves behind jail bars instead of computer screens."