U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ended the reign of the so-called Spam King, who earned his title by sending out millions of unwanted e-mails, by sentencing the Seattle man to nearly four years in prison Tuesday.
Robert Soloway is the second person in the country to be convicted under the Can-Spam Act for flooding the virtual world with fraudulent e-mail messages. His sentence of 47 months is less than half of what prosecutors wanted.
Soloway told Pechman that he did it for the money to pay for fine clothes and a luxury apartment. But Pechman likened him to a polluter who had fouled the Internet.
Investigators said Soloway used software called Dark Mailer to tap into a network of "botnets" -- zombie computers that he used to send bulk e-mails with anonymity. He also sent out advertisements for his commercial e-mail clients using the addresses of real people without their permission.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Warma called spamming a serious problem and compared the Internet to "a free-ranging Wild West" that is a welcoming environment to such cybercriminals as Soloway.
The prosecution and the defense jousted Tuesday over aggravating factors that could persuade the judge to increase Soloway's time behind bars.
Although Soloway acknowledged that he sent out a huge number of illegal spam e-mails, defense attorney Robert Wayne said there was "not a shred of evidence" that he used zombie computers to do it.
Soloway violated the Can-Spam Act, in part, by falsifying the header information in his e-mail messages. The program he used automatically substituted the e-mail recipient's name for that of Soloway's, making it appear that the recipient had sent a message to himself or herself or used bogus addresses in the from field. The purpose of these digital gymnastics was to get around any spam filter on the recipient's computer.
The sentencing Tuesday followed guilty pleas from Soloway in March to single counts of e-mail fraud, mail fraud and tax evasion.
Reviled by anti-spam groups, Soloway sent more than 90 million e-mails in just three months through two servers, according to court records.
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