Jennifer R. Clason, Jeffrey A. Kilbride, and James R. Schaffer have been accused of sending numerous span emails advertising pornographic websites.
The three were indicted by a federal grand jury in Arizona (U.S.) and accused of violating the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and other crimes.
According to the Justice Department, the pornographic Web sites that were being promoted would pay the trio for directing internet traffic to their sites.
The unsolicited spam emails generated by the three were ranked in the top 200 largest sources of spam on the Internet according to the Internet anti-spam monitor The Spamhaus Project.
The Department of Justice stated that America Online received more than 600,000 complaints between late January and early June 2004 related to spam from this particular operation. It is estimated that tens of millions of users may have received the email.
The spam operation functioned by buying large amounts of Internet bandwidth from major service providers along with which came large blocks of IP addresses, a small number of which could be used for spamming.
They used these addresses until they were blocked by anti-spam systems or were terminated by their ISP. At that point they would find a new ISP and repeat the process.
Each of the three indicted individuals is charged with two counts of fraud and one count of criminal conspiracy. Kilbride and Schaffer face an additional two counts of interstate transportation of pornographic material via the internet, two counts of interstate transportation of obscene material for the purpose of sale or distribution, and one count of money laundering.
In addition, Schaffer has one count of operating three pornographic Web sites without including required statements regarding the performers.
The three face long prison sentences if convicted for the crimes contained in the indictments. Kilbride and Schaffer face a maximum of 25 years in prison for money laundering and 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.
Andrew Ellifson, a fourth individual implicated in the group’s activities pleaded guilty to a violation of the CAN-SPAM act and one count of criminal conspiracy. His role was creating, managing, and operating the computer network used for spamming.
Ellifson’s sentencing will occur on September 26 and he could serve up to a total of 15 years in prison if convicted on all three counts of the indictment. In a plea bargain he agreed to relinquish the profits he made through the spam emails.