A Loudoun County judge today sentenced the first person convicted of felony spam charges in the nation to nine years in prison but allowed him to remain free on bond during his appeal.
Jeremy Jaynes, 30, of North Carolina, was convicted in November of violating Virginia's anti-spam statute by illegally flooding America Online accounts with tens of thousands of bulk e-mail advertisements. The case was tried in Loudoun because the e-mails, which peddled products such as stock pickers and a computer program, ran through an AOL server in the county.
In sentencing Jaynes, Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne said he would not begin serving his term because there are "substantial legal issues" related to the new anti-spam law, enacted in 2003, that still need to be explored. Horne also said he believed Jaynes does not pose a danger to society.
"This is a case of first impression. . . .It is a statute that is being tried for the first time," Horne said.
Lisa Hicks-Thomas, a prosecutor with the Virginia Attorney General's computer crimes division, said she was certain the conviction and sentence would prevail on appeals.
"I'm satisfied that the court upheld what 12 citizens in Virginia have determined is an appropriate sentence," Hicks-Thomas said. The trial jury recommended Jaynes serve three consecutive three-year sentences.
David Oblon, Jaynes's attorney, expressed similar confidence that defense arguments would win on appeal, saying that "any sentence is therefore moot."
He added: "However, the sentence was not what we recommended, and we're disappointed."
During the trial, prosecutors portrayed Jaynes as the head of a lucrative spam business that he operated from his Raleigh-area home with help from his sister and co-defendant, Jessica DeGroot, and a third defendant, Richard Rutkowski. They said the defendants used phony Internet addresses to send more than 10,000 spam e-mails to America Online subscribers on three days in July 2003 -- a volume that makes the crime a felony.
The jury convicted DeGroot in November and recommended she be fined $7,500, but Horne dismissed her conviction last month. Rutkowski was acquitted.
Before hearing his sentence, Jaynes told Horne he never meant to cause anyone harm.
"I can guarantee the court I will never be involved in the e-mail marketing business again," he said.
At the sentencing hearing, David Oblon, Jaynes's attorney, argued that a nine-year sentence was too long for a non-violent crime. He asked Horne to run Jaynes's three sentences concurrently and suspend most or all of them. He referred to several letters written by Jaynes's friends and family -- and one from former North Carolina Attorney General Rufus Edmisten -- that were submitted to the court as testament to Jaynes's character.
Horne acknowledged the letters, which he said described Jaynes as a former Eagle Scout who helped "the poor build houses," but he said the jury's recommended sentence reflected community sentiment about spamming and what he called its "tremendous societal costs."
Jaynes has been free on $1 million bond since November. But under the conditions of his bond, he must live in Loudoun County, can rarely leave his home and must wear an electric monitor so officials can keep track of his whereabouts.
Oblon said he would file a motion requesting the bond conditions be amended to allow Jaynes to return to North Carolina while the case winds its way through appellate courts, a process he said could take four years.