updated 12/12/2003 5:57:49 PM ET 2003-12-12T22:57:49

Two North Carolina men were indicted for violating the state’s junk e-mail law by sending thousands of e-mail pitches for investments, software and other products, in what prosecutors said was the nation’s first felony charges for unsolicited e-mail.

Jeremy Jaynes, 29, who uses the aliases of Jeremy James and Gaven Stubberfield, and Richard Rutowski each face four felony counts of transmission of unsolicited bulk electronic mail, Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said Thursday.

Each count carries up to five years in prison and fines of up to $2,500.

The indictments, returned Monday by a grand jury in Loudoun County, Va., were based on Virginia’s antispam law which took effect July 1. Kilgore’s office launched its investigation into what he described as a massive spamming operation that used the America Online computer network which is headquartered in the county.

"The defendants falsified or forged electronic mail transmission information, or other routing information," said Kilgore. The volume of messages and efforts to conceal their true identities have elevated prosecution of the case to felony level.

"This was a very profitable business for these two individuals," said Kilgore.

Although investigators declined to say how much income they believe the spam scheme generated, they did say both men were supporting affluent lifestyles.

The spam included "penny-picker stock schemes, mortgage interest rate ads and an Internet history eraser," said Lisa Hicks-Thomas, director of Virginia’s computer crime unit in Kilgore’s office.

Jaynes is one of the world’s most prolific spammers, Kilgore said.

His alias, Gaven Stubberfield, "is number eight on the top 10 worldwide spammer list," he said, citing complaints reported to Internet service providers and tabulated by anti-spam group spamhaus.org. Between July 11 and Aug. 11, more than 100,000 complaints on spam messages linked to the two men were reported, Kilgore said. On at least three days, more than 10,000 messages were transmitted.

More than 50 percent of all Internet traffic across the world passes through Virginia because AOL and 1,300 service providers or technology companies are located in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.

There are "1.5 billion e-mails blocked a day through AOL’s spam filters and other technical measures we take," said Curtis P. Lu, deputy general counsel for the company. The indictments were announced at AOL headquarters.

"The filters that have been created to block out spam are such that it’s catching lots and lots of legitimate businesses now," said Bobbie Green Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

Jaynes of Raleigh, N.C., is being held pending a request for extradition. Rutowski, of Cary, N.C., is expected to surrender to authorities under terms being worked out through his attorney.

According to Kilgore, Virginia has the strongest anti-spam law in the country. While other states can take civil actions, Virginia is the only one that can prosecute spammers for violating specific criminal charges related to the activity.

Federal legislation allowing for the criminal prosecution of spammers has been passed by Congress and is awaiting President Bush’s signature.

The Virginia case will be the first felony prosecution for violation of antispam statutes in the nation.

Howard Carmack, 36, of Buffalo, N.Y., was indicted in May for allegedly using stolen identities to create Internet accounts from which he sent more than 825 million junk e-mail messages, but he was charged with identity theft.

Atlanta-based ISP Earthlink was awarded $16.4 million after successfully suing Carmack after for using 343 false identities to establish e-mail accounts.

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