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Virginia Hits Spammers With Felony Charges

Virginia authorities arrested and charged a North Carolina man Thursday morning with four felony counts of using deceptive routing information in sending bulk commercial e-mail. The indictments are the first felonies in the country to be levied against a spammer under Virginia's tough new anti-spam law.

Jeremy Jaynes, 29, was arrested in Raleigh and is awaiting extradition to Virginia. A second person connected with Jaynes, Richard Rutowski of Cary, N.C., is expected to surrender to authorities in the next few days. Both are listed on Spamhaus.org's database of top ten spammers in the world.

Under Virginia's tough new anti-spam law, which wen into effect in April, spammers living outside of the state can be charged even if none of the recipients live in Virginia as long as the e-mail was, at some point, routed through Virginia. More than half of the world's e-mail flows through Virginia, home of America Online and a number of federal agencies.

During a press conference Thursday, Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore said he was able to indict Jaynes because his bulk e-mails traveled through servers in Loudon County, where a number of AOL servers are located. Using the "Report Spam" button, AOL members provided thousands of complaints that were used by Virginia authorities to help investigate and indict Jaynes.

Both Jaynes and Rutkowski, if convicted, face up to five years in prison on each of the four counts. According to the Spamhaus database, Jaynes and Rutowski are a "non-stop group of porn spammers" who use their high-speed T-1 Internet connections for sending "notorious 'horsey porn' spam," which spew around the clock from their multiple computers.

"This was a very profitable business for these two individuals. They lived a very good life," Kilgore said.

The volume of the two's bulk mailings triggered the criminal provisions of the Virginia law. The indictment, which covers a 30-day period last summer, charges that the duo sent more than 10,000 pieces of spam a day and more than 100,000 for the period. In addition to prison time, they face forfeiture of property and statutory damages up to $10 per e-mail or $25,000 per day spam is sent.

"The indictment alleges that the defendant falsified or forged electronic mail transmission information or other routing information in connection with the transmission of the spam," Kilgore said. "This falsification prevents the receiver from knowing who sent the spam or contacting them through the 'from address''of the e-mail. 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."

Kilgore authored Virginia's anti-spam law earlier this year, which is regarded as the strongest in the nation and was used as the model for the criminal portion of the Can Spam Act passed by Congress earlier this week.

The Virginia law is not directed at all unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail, only the ones with fraudulent claims. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), nearly two thirds of spam contains false claims.

The differences in the spam laws in various states, and the difficulty for legitimate e-mail marketers to navigate differing requirements, is one of the reasons even staunch defenders of industry self-regulation, including the Direct Marketing Association, began to advocate for federal legislation to over-ride any state laws, creating an overarching standard for the United States.