Three people accused of sending massive amounts of spam face possible prison sentences after being indicted by a grand jury in the U.S. state of Arizona and accused of violating the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and other charges, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.
Named in the indictment are Jennifer R. Clason, Jeffrey A. Kilbride, and James R. Schaffer. The three are accused of sending spam that advertised pornographic Web sites, said the DOJ in a statement. They could make money from commissions that the Web sites paid in return for directing traffic to their sites, the statement said.
The defendant’s operation was ranked as one of the 200 largest sources of spam on the Internet by The Spamhaus Project Ltd., a group that tracks and battles against spam. America Online Inc. received more than 600,000 complaints between late January and early June last year related to spam from the operation, said the DOJ. The actual number of users who received spam from the operation could be in the tens of millions, it said.
“Each of those people [in the Spamhaus listing] sends out several million spams a day,” said Suresh Ramasubramanian, who heads anti-spam operations at e-mail outsourcing company Outblaze Ltd.
He said the defendants’ operation worked by buying large amounts of Internet bandwidth from major service providers. With the purchase they’d also get large blocks of IP addresses and the defendants would then send spam to the Internet from a small portion of the addresses they had. Once the addresses were blocked in anti-spam systems they’d start using different addresses until such a time as the pattern was recognized and they were terminated by their ISP. They’d then go to a new service provider and start all over again.
“They were quite big in terms of volume but a static target,” he said. “Like a huge firehose of porn spam blasting right at you but from a single large source. That’d change each time they got kicked off an ISP.”
The e-mails allegedly contained pornographic images and so felony obscenity offenses for transmission of hard-core pornographic images have also been leveled against the defendants, the DOJ said.
Specifically, all three have been charged with two counts of fraud and related activity in connection with email under the CAN-SPAM Act and one count of criminal conspiracy. Kilbride and Schaffer are also charged with two counts of interstate transportation of obscene material using an interactive computer service, two counts of interstate transportation of obscene material for the purpose of sale or distribution, and one count of money laundering. Schaffer is also charged with one count of operating three pornographic Web sites without including required statements regarding the performers.
If convicted, the three could face long prison sentences. Kilbride and Schaffer face a maximum of 20 years in prison on the money laundering charge, and five years in prison on the obscenity charges. The spamming and criminal conspiracy charges carry maximum sentences of five years each. Schaffer also faces up to two years on the charge of improper pornographic record keeping.
A fourth person, Andrew Ellifson, pleaded guilty to a violation of the CAN-SPAM act and one count of criminal conspiracy, said the DOJ. Ellifson assisted in the creation, operation, and management of the computer network used to transmit the spam e-mails sent by the operation, it said. In a plea agreement he agreed to hand over money made during the crimes. He faces up to five years in prison for each offense and will be sentenced on Sep. 26.