In February, Jason Smathers, a 25-year-old former AOL employee, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to charges that he sold names of AOL subscribers to an internet marketer for $28,000. The names were taken from an AOL’s database of some 30 million customers.
Smathers is reported to have cooperated with prosecutors and was contrite when he was sentenced in court on Wednesday, surrounded by family members. "I know I have done something very wrong," he told U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein.
Prosecutors said AOL, a subsidiary of Time Warner, suffered an estimated loss of $300,000 from employee time spent dealing with the theft, as well as hardware and software expenses.
Judge Hellerstein said that while AOL’s losses were hard to prove, the offense was still a major one because people rely so heavily on email for communication and companies need to protect their customer’s confidential information.
In response to a letter to the judge, in which Smathers pleaded for leniency and described himself as "an outlaw" in the "new frontier" of cyberspace, prosecutor David Siegal argued that "the Internet is not lawless” and that had AOL suffered a loss of 10 cents for every 1,000 spam e-mails sent to subscribers.
The judge did not impose a fine and gave AOL 10 days to prove its financial loss before deciding on restitution, but proposed a figure of $84,000.
Smathers, who may serve up to 24 months in prison under federal guidelines, will be incarcerated in Pensacola, Florida on Sept. 19. His sentence is not as harsh as others convicted of spamming. Last year’s “Buffalo Spammer” from New York received a 3-1/2 to 7 years in prison.