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Texan authorities launched federal suit yesterday against a University of Texas student alleged to have run one of the world's largest spam operations.

Ryan Samuel Pitylak, 22, and alleged accomplice Mark Stephen Trotter of Encinitas, California are accused of sending hundreds of thousands of junk mail messages through two firms they ran, PayPerAction and Leadplex. The pair are said to have specialised in spam messages hawking mortgage refinancing and other financial services designed to trick users into handing over personal information which the pair sold on for up to $28 a lead. Spamhaus ranks the defendants as the fourth largest illegal spam operation in the world in its Register of Known Spam Operations.

These spam messages often came with misleading subject lines and bogus sources, opening up the case for prosecution under the CAN-SPAM Act. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also accuses the duo of violations of state laws, namely the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Texas Electronic Mail Solicitation Act. Texan authorities worked with Microsoft and others to set up "spam traps" that allowed investigators to track the source of the junk mail back to PayPerAction and Leadplex.

If proven, the allegations against the pair could result in fines of more than $2m. They deny the charges.

Lin Hughes, the lawyer representing Pitylak and Trotter, said two defendants sold their stake in Leadplex and PayPerAction in March 2004 to Hong Kong-based Eastmark Technology, a firm also named in the suit. She said her clients remained consultants to Leadplex and PayPerAction who are "legitimate Internet marketing companies in compliance with the federal law", according to local press reports. ®

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Statement from office of Texas Attorney General Abbott: First Texas Lawsuit for Violations of E-mail Spam Laws

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