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E-Mail-Address Thief Pleads Guilty

Former AOL Employee Sold 92 Million Screen Names to Spammers

By Larry Neumeister
Associated Press
Saturday, February 5, 2005; Page E03

NEW YORK, Feb. 4 -- A former America Online Inc. software engineer pleaded guilty Friday to stealing 92 million screen names and e-mail addresses and selling them to spammers.

Jason Smathers, 24, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., entered the plea to conspiracy charges in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Sentencing was scheduled for May 20.

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Smathers could be ordered to make restitution of $200,000 to $400,000, the amount the government estimates AOL spent as a result of the e-mails.

In December, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein rejected a similar plea by Smathers, saying he was not convinced that he had actually committed a crime. But the judge said prosecutors now had sufficiently explained why he had.

Smathers told the judge that he accepted $28,000 from someone who wanted to pitch an offshore gambling site to AOL customers, knowing that the list of screen names might make its way to others who would send e-mail solicitations.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Siegal said Smathers had engaged in the interstate transportation of stolen property and had violated the federal Can-Spam law, which is meant to diminish unsolicited e-mail messages.

America Online is a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner Inc.

Smathers was fired by AOL last June. Authorities said he used another employee's access code to steal the list of AOL customers in 2003 from its headquarters in Dulles.

Smathers allegedly sold the list to Sean Dunaway, of Las Vegas, who, prosecutors said, used it to send unwanted gambling advertisements to subscribers of AOL, the world's largest Internet service provider. Dunaway was also charged.

The stolen list of 92 million e-mail addresses included multiple addresses used by AOL's estimated 30 million customers.

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