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Email threats earn conviction

A Canadian man faces up to 10 years in federal prison after being found guilty of sending threatening emails to Bill Gates and a number of government officials.

A Canadian man is facing up to ten years in federal prison after being found guilty of sending email messages that threatened the lives of Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates and a number of government officials, the U.S. attorney in Seattle said.

Carl Edward Johnson, 49, of Bienfait, Saskatchewan, was convicted on four felony counts in connection with the threats, some of which were posted to a popular encryption mailing list using a popular software program that ensures privacy and validates the sender's identity. His conviction wraps up a two-year investigation by officials from the Treasury Department.

Johnson, who is scheduled for sentencing on June 11, is being held in a federal detention center near Seattle. His attorney was not immediately available for comment.

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan found Johnson guilty of using the Cypherpunks mailing list to threaten government officials, said assistant U.S. attorney Floyd Short. The court found that Johnson in June of 1997 used an anonymous remailer to post a message offering a reward if someone would kill a magistrate judge and several Treasury Department investigators. The officials were involved in the criminal prosecution of a man accused of illegally compiling names and addresses of employees at the Internal Revenue Service and trying them in so-called common law courts.

The court also found that Johnson posted messages threatening the lives of three federal appeals court judges who are hearing a case challenging government restrictions of the export of encryption software. Johnson said the judges would end up in "a pine box or a body bag" if they ruled against Chicago professor Daniel Bernstein, a plaintiff in the civil case against the regulations, Short said.

Johnson also was convicted of sending email to Gates claiming the top Microsoft executive's assassination was being planned.

Floyd said that investigators were able to learn Johnson's identity by piecing together information he left on Web sites, in email messages, and in his home. A key piece of evidence included what is known as the public key in a program called Pretty Good Privacy, which is designed to validate where a message originated.

Johnson's conviction comes a week after federal investigators were able to track down the man they allege anonymously posted a hoax news story that caused the stock of a California company to rise more than 30 percent.

"People may feel they are anonymous on the Internet, and that's not the case," Short said. "The level of understanding of the Internet is rising quite a bit within law enforcement."