One of the Internet’s most notorious auction scam artists was sentenced on Monday to 78 months in a federal prison. Jay Nelson was convicted last year of scamming 1,700 victims, mostly on Yahoo and eBay. Nelson eluded authorities for about 6 months in 2001, when he skipped bail after facing an initial charge of wire fraud. He then went on a scamming binge that didn’t end until he was turned in by a coin store dealer who had seen Nelson’s photograph on MSNBC.com.
NELSON’S CRIMES WERE SIMPLE. He offered electronics items for sale on eBay and Yahoo, accepted payment, and never delivered the goods. The schemes worked because he used a labyrinth of false names to confuse potential customers into believing he was a reputable seller.
He was so successful that at one point, U.S. Postal Inspector Tom Higgins called him “The Internet’s John Dillinger.”
Nelson, who wound up being tried by the U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H., pleaded guilty last summer to mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and identity fraud. In sentencing him Monday, Chief Judge Paul J. Barbadoro handed down the maximum time available.
Barbadoro dismissed Nelson’s pleas for leniency, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Gunnison said, because Nelson had lied to the court in the past.
“It is a lengthy sentence which reflects the seriousness of this kind of activity... We hope the sentence will server to deter others from following in Mr. Nelson’s footsteps,” Gunnison said.
Nelson has already served a year’s jail time for the 2001 bail jumping incident, and now will begin serving the additional 6 1/2-year sentence.
It isn’t the longest jail term meted to an Internet auction criminal. Last year a Virginia man received a 12-year prison term for bilking $100,000 out of 268 victims. In that case, the scam artist also accepted payments and never delivered merchandise.
Nelson’s case was one of the largest Internet auction fraud investigations conducted by the Postal Inspection Service, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
“Cyber-criminals seem to think that what they do on the computer is beyond the reach of the law,” Gunnison said. “This investigation shows that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and other agencies can in fact track down and bring these scam artists to justice.”