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AOL techie jailed for selling email database to spammers

Hard time for 'dumb' crime

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A former AOL engineer was sent to jail for 15 months yesterday after he confessed to stealing 92m screen names and email addresses belonging to an estimated 30m AOL members and selling them to spammers.

Jason Smathers, 25, was sentenced on Wednesday after pleading guilty in February to conspiracy and theft charges and to violation of federal anti-spam laws. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein also ordered Smathers to pay $83,000 in compensation or three times the $28,000 he made flogging off AOL screen names and email addresses to a spammer, named in court as Sean Dunaway, 22, of Las Vegas.

USA Today reports that Dunaway used the addresses to promote a net gambling business prior selling them on to other junk mailers for $52,000, who subsequently bombarded AOL members with penis pill offers and other assorted tat. Criminal charges against Dunaway are pending, the paper reports.

Smathers might have faced up to 15 years in jail and a $500K fine prior to a plea bargaining agreement earlier this year1. Smathers' lawyer, Jeffrey Hoffman, described his client's actions as a "dumb, stupid, insane act" that he now profoundly regrets. "I know I've done something very wrong," Smathers told Judge Hellerstein prior to sentencing. The judge accepted that Smathers had demonstrated genuine contrition and refused a probation request to prohibit Smathers from working as a software engineer after his release. ®

1 Smathers original plea-bargaining agreement in December 2004 was refused because a judge wasn't convinced what crime, if any, had been committed. Techdirt reports that Judge Hellerstein made this ruling even though he'd cancelled his AOL account because of too much spam.

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