Va. Supreme Court upholds first US felony SPAM conviction

The Virginia Supreme Court today upheld the nation’s first felony SPAM conviction, according to the Virginia Attorney General. 

In November 2004, Jeremy Jaynes was convicted by a jury in Loudoun County Circuit Court on three counts of violating Virginia’s groundbreaking Anti-Spam Act, which became in law in 2003. This marked the first ever felony conviction in a SPAM case, and the case received international attention.  After convicting the defendant, the same jury sentenced him to serve nine years in jail. The defendant appealed his conviction. In September 2006, the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the constitutionality of Virginia’s Anti-SPAM Statute and upheld the conviction. Now the state Supreme Court has done the same, said Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell in a release.

Jaynes was regarded as the eighth-worst spammer in the world on The Spamhaus Project’s Registry of Known Spammer Organizations at the time of his arrest. At that time, prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Computer Crime Section argued to the jury that Jaynes, utilizing AOL’s private computer network, located in Virginia, peddled his products to unsuspecting victims around the world.

A search of a Jaynes residence yielded a cache of compact disks with 176 million e-mail addresses and 1.3 billion e-mail user names, police at the time said.At his trial, prosecutors presented evidence of 53,000 illegal e-mails Jaynes sent over three days in July 2003. But authorities believe he was responsible for dumping 10 million e-mails a day and made about $750,000 per month. His global fraud resulted in millions of dollars of profit, which he used to purchase a mansion and a number of homes in Raleigh, North Carolina, McDonnell  said.

In its 4-3 ruling, the court rejected Jaynes' claim that the state law violates both the First Amendment and the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"Unfortunately, the state that gave birth to the First Amendment has, with this ruling, diminished that freedom for all of us," Jaynes' lawyer, Thomas M. Wolf, said in an Associated Press report. "As three justices pointed out in dissent, the majority's decision will have far reaching consequences. The statute criminalizes sending bulk anonymous e-mail, even for the purpose of petitioning the government or promoting religion."

The news in Virginia could influence the outcome of notorious spammer Robert Soloway, who will get his day in court next month when his criminal trial kicks off in Seattle.

Soloway was arrested in May and charged with sending out tens of millions of unsolicited messages; so many, in fact, that investigators called him the "Spam King," and his arrest was hailed as a major blow in the fight against spam. Many of Soloway's unsolicited messages were sent out using hacked "zombie" computers infected with botnet software, prosecutors allege. 

 The United States Attorney's Office is seeking more than $770,000 in fines, but Soloway is also facing fraud and identity theft charges that could result in jail time.

Not that any of these cases is stopping spam however. Spam surged to 72% of overall e-mail traffic monitored by Symantec in November, the highest percentage for any month this year, according to Symantec’s monthly “State of Spam Report.”  

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