A former America Online Inc. engineer was sentenced yesterday to 15 months in prison for stealing the company's entire subscriber list, which was used to send hundreds of millions of spam e-mails to AOL members.
Jason Smathers of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., pleaded guilty in February to using another America Online employee's ID to break into the company's database and steal 92 million screen names used by the Dulles Internet company's nearly 30 million subscribers.
Smathers, who was sentenced in federal district court in New York City, also will have to pay restitution of an amount to be set by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein at a later date.
Prosecutors charged that Smathers, now 25, conspired to steal the list with Sean Dunaway of Las Vegas and then sold it to Dunaway, who was arrested on the same day as Smathers in June 2004. Dunaway also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
The name theft occurred slowly, between spring 2003 and spring 2004. Dunaway, who wanted to start an online gambling operation, paid Smathers $28,000 and then sold the list to unnamed spammers for $52,000, the government charged. The spammers sent out messages advertising herbal penile enlargement pills to names on the list.
Smathers pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic in stolen property, conspiracy to violate federal anti-spam law and one count of trafficking in stolen property.
He could have received up to two years in jail under guidelines agreed to by both sides.
Susan C. Wolfe, a New York attorney representing Smathers, had no comment on the case's outcome. She said Smathers, who no longer lives in Harpers Ferry, is free on bail pending a decision on which prison he will surrender to next month.
AOL spokesman Nicholas J. Graham said the company is "obviously pleased this matter has come to an appropriate conclusion."