The text of the instant message was in an e-mail found by investigators, including Secret Service members, on a company laptop belonging to Smathers. Computer logs also showed that Smathers apparently was also able to get access to the data from his home in Harpers Ferry, W. Va.
The informant who alerted AOL to the scheme told investigators that roughly a month after Smathers accessed the data, Dunaway sold him the 92 million names in 26 separate blocks, one for each letter of the alphabet, for $52,000. He provided investigators with CD-ROMs containing the lists, which matched the way the data was stored by AOL.
The source told investigators that early this year he bought a revised list from Dunaway for roughly $32,500. That list was much smaller, about 18 million screen names, and Dunaway said it was more up to date and "a more risky proposition for his AOL insider to obtain" because it had other subscriber data, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors said Dunaway boasted that spamming for his Internet gambling business was earning between $10,000 and $20,000 a day. Smathers was arrested yesterday morning at his home, made an initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria and was held in jail overnight, pending a detention hearing scheduled for today. He was assigned a public defender, who declined to comment.
Dunaway was arrested yesterday at his home in Las Vegas.
The charges against both men include conspiring to transport stolen goods across state lines, gaining unauthorized access to computers and sending out deceptive bulk e-mail with disguised origins.
Each man faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
The government said that the source was cooperating in hopes of winning leniency and that his information has been independently corroborated.
"It is a very disturbing fact of life that an employee with criminal intentions can betray our members' trust by working around systems and procedures that are in place to protect data from disclosure," AOL said in statement.
Staff writer Jerry Markon contributed to this report.