Robert Alan Soloway, 27, is charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, e-mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. Prosecutors said he made $773,000 from his business, Newport Internet Marketing Corp., and used networks of “zombie” computers infected with a malicious code to send out spam e-mails.
“He’s one of the top 10 spammers in the world. He’s a huge problem for our customers. This is a very good day,” Tim Cranton, a Microsoft Corp. lawyer who is director of the company’s Worldwide Internet Safety Programs, told the Associated Press.
Federal prosecutors have accused Soloway of falsely advertising a mass e-mail service that sent messages through a permission-based list. For $495, his advertisement said, he could send out 20 million e-mails over 15 days.
He also allegedly sent e-mails advertising his services that often contained forged e-mail addresses or domain names in the “from” line, which caused some people who legitimately own those names to be blamed for spam. Businesses and individuals complained of damage to their reputations as it appeared the spam was coming from them.
“This is not just a nuisance. This is way beyond a nuisance,” prosecutor Kathryn Warma told the AP.
Although experts put Soloway in the top dozen spammers internationally, most doubted the arrest would impact the volume of unsolicited email sent.
“In the short term, the effect it’s going to have is more symbolic more than anything else,” said John Levine, co-author of “Fighting Spam for Dummies.” “Soloway is a large spammer, but hardly the only large spammer.”
Interim U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sullivan told the Seattle Times he did not disagree, saying “Clearly Mr. Soloway isn’t the only spammer, but we want to send a message.”
Soloway has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The case follows a $7 million civil judgment against him in favor of Microsoft and a $10 million judgment in favor of a small Internet service provider in Oklahoma.
Even though the government has seized four of his bank accounts, a judge has determined that Soloway still has sufficient funds to pay for his own lawyer. Warma told the AP that Soloway lives in a ritzy apartment and drives a Mercedes convertible.
Although prosecutors have not yet decided on sentencing guidelines, Soloway could face decades in prison based on the indictment.