April 8, 2005
LEESBURG, Va. - A Virginia judge sentenced a spammer to nine years in prison Friday in the nation's first felony prosecution for sending junk e-mail, though the sentence was postponed while the case is appealed.
Loudoun County Circuit Judge Thomas Horne said that because the law targeting bulk e-mail distribution is new and raises constitutional questions, it was appropriate to defer the prison time until appeals courts rule.
A jury had recommended the nine-year prison term after convicting Jeremy Jaynes of pumping out at least 10 million e-mails a day with the help of 16 high-speed lines, the kind of Internet capacity a 1,000-employee company would need.
Jaynes, of Raleigh, N.C., 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."
The prosecutor, Lisa Hicks-Thomas, said she was pleased with the sentence and confident that the law would be upheld on appeal.
"We're satisfied that the court upheld what 12 citizens of Virginia determined was an appropriate sentence - nine years in prison," Hicks-Thomas said.
Defense attorney David Oblon argued in court 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 two weeks before.
"We have no doubt that we will win on appeal," Oblon said outside court. "Therefore any sentence is somewhat moot. Still, the sentence is not what we recommended and we're disappointed."
Jaynes declined to talk to reporters. He remains under $1 million bond.
Though Oblon has never disputed that his client was a bulk e-mail distributor, he argued during the trial that the law was poorly crafted and that prosecutors never proved the e-mail was unsolicited. He also has said the law is an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.
Under Virginia law, sending unsolicited bulk e-mail itself is not a crime unless the sender masks his identity. Prosecutors brought the case in Virginia because it is home to America Online Inc., the leading Internet service provider.
Prosecutors have described Jaynes as among the top 10 spammers in the world at the time of his arrest, using the name "Gaven Stubberfield" and other aliases to peddle junk products and pornography. Prosecutors say he grossed up to $750,000 per month.
The jury also convicted Jaynes's sister, Jessica DeGroot of Raleigh, 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.