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AOL Spammer gets 15 months

A former America Online computer engineer accused of stealing at least 92 million AOL e-mail addresses and selling them to a spammer was sentenced today to 15 months in prison in one of the first prosecutions under the nation's anti-spam laws.

Jason Smathers, 24, was sentenced by New York federal Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein after pleading guilty to violating conspiracy and federal anti-spam laws.
Smathers, of Harpers Ferry, W. Va., received more than $100,000 for selling the AOL e-mail addresses to 21-year-old e-mail marketer Sean Dunaway, who was arrested in Las Vegas in June 2004 on similar charges. Dunaway was accused of buying the e-mail addresses -- all the user names of every AOL subscriber as of May 2003 and using them to promote his online gambling business and selling them to other spammers for tens of thousands of dollars.

AOL, a unit of Time Warner Inc. based in Dulles, Va., alerted authorities after it suspected it might have been the victim of an inside job.

Smathers and someone using the handle "The Brews" began plotting the theft in early 2003, using AOL's instant messaging program to discuss the value of a list of bona fide AOL e-mail addresses, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in New York.

Investigators said they found an e-mail Smathers had sent to himself with the user name and password for an AOL employee in Tucson who had access to the sensitive database. Smathers allegedly used that account to extract the e-mail addresses.

It's unclear how much Dunaway may have paid Smathers for the first round of 92 million names, but Dunaway is accused of selling them to another junk e-mailer for $52,000.

Dunaway later allegedly paid Smathers $100,000 for an updated round of 18 million screen names, which included the telephone numbers, ZIP Codes and credit card types of AOL members, but not their credit card numbers. AOL keeps that information in a separate database.

Smathers plead guilty in February to one court of conspiracy to traffic in stolen property and to violate the anti-spam law and one count of trafficking in stolen property.

The case against Dunaway is still pending.
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