'Godfather of Spam' sentenced to four years in prison

One of the most notorious U.S.-based spammers was sentenced to more than four years in jail on Monday for a scheme that used spam to manipulate stock prices in order to make a profit.

Alan Ralsky, 64, of West Bloomfield, Michigan, was sentenced to 51 months in prison in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, according a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Ralsky pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and violating the CAN-SPAM act.

Ralsky has long been fingered by the antispam organization Spamhaus for sending spam using hacked computers. Ralsky called himself the “Godfather of Spam” and was sued by Verizon for sending unauthorized bulk mail on its networks. Ralsky has also had several other run-ins with the law, including a 1995 conviction for felony bank fraud.

In the latest case, Ralsky and several others were accused of sending out batches of spam that tried to convince people to buy thinly traded stocks in order get the stock prices to rise. The scheme is known as a pump-and-dump scam, where the perpetrators are able to quickly sell the stock for a profit but leave the new investors at a loss when the price inevitable collapses.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Ralsky pushed spam mostly for U.S. companies that were owned and controlled by people in Hong Kong and China. The spam contained falsified header information and was sent from proxy computers.

Also sentenced was Ralsky’s 48-year-old son-in-law, Scott Bradley, who received 40 months in prison. Two other people, How Wai John Hui, a resident of Hong Kong and Canada, received 51 months, and John S. Brown, of Fresno, California, received 32 months.

Brown was accused of running a botnet in order to send the spam, while Hui was accused of wire and mail fraud as well as money laundering.

Five people—Francis Tribble, Judy Devenow, William Neil, James Bragg and James Fite—are scheduled for sentencing Tuesday in the same court on charges related to the scheme. Cases are still pending against two other people, Anki Neil and Peter Severa, the DOJ said.

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