LEESBURG, Va. — A man convicted in the nation’s first felony case against illegal spamming was sentenced to nine years in prison Friday for bombarding Internet users with millions of junk e-mails.
However, Loudoun County Circuit Judge Thomas Horne delayed the start of Jeremy Jaynes’ prison term while the case is appealed, saying the law is new and raises constitutional questions.
A jury had recommended the nine-year term for the Raleigh, N.C., man.
Jaynes, 30, who was considered among the top 10 spammers in the world at the time of his arrest, used the Internet to peddle pornography and sham products and services such as a “FedEx refund processor,” prosecutors said. Thousands of people fell for his e-mails, and prosecutors said Jaynes’ operation grossed up to $750,000 per month.
Jaynes was convicted in November for using false Internet addresses and aliases to send mass e-mail ads through an AOL server in Loudoun County, where America Online is based. Under Virginia law, sending unsolicited bulk e-mail itself is not a crime unless the sender masks his identity.
While prosecutors presented evidence of just 53,000 illegal e-mails, authorities believe Jaynes was responsible for spewing out 10 million e-mails a day. Prosecutors said Jaynes made millions of dollars from the illegal venture.
Prosecutor Lisa Hicks-Thomas said she was pleased with the ruling and confident that the law would be upheld on appeal.
But defense attorney David Oblon argued that nine years was far too long given that Jaynes was charged as an out-of-state resident with violating a Virginia law that had taken effect just weeks before. He planned to challenge both the constitutionality of the law, as well as its applicability to Jaynes.
“We have no doubt that we will win on appeal, therefore any sentence is somewhat moot. Still, the sentence is not what we recommended and we’re disappointed,” Oblon said outside court.
Horne said he might also reconsider the sentence if Jaynes loses the appeal.
“I do not believe a person should go to prison for a law that is invalid,” he said. “There are substantial legal issues that need to be brought before the appellate court.”
A judge has ruled Maryland’s anti-spam law unconstitutional because it seeks to regulate commerce outside the state’s borders. However, an appeals court in California and the Washington state Supreme Court have upheld state laws that had been declared unconstitutional by lower courts on grounds similar to the December ruling in Maryland.
Many states have criminal laws against spam, but Virginia’s makes it easier than others for prosecutors to obtain a felony conviction, which carries more jail time than a misdemeanor, said Quinn Jalli of the online marketing firm Digital Impact.
Jaynes told the judge that regardless of how the appeal turns out, “I can guarantee the court I will not be involved in the e-mail marketing business again.” He remains under $1 million bond.
The jury also convicted Jaynes’s sister, Jessica DeGroot, but recommended only a $7,500 fine. Her conviction was later dismissed by the judge. A third defendant, Richard Rutkowski of Cary, N.C., was acquitted of all charges.
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