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A Tale of Two "Spam Kings"

One is put behind bars as another escapes from prison



Courtesy of iStockphoto, Copyright: Felix Möckel

Law enforcement has for years struggled to keep up with cyber crooks who use computers and networks to commit their crimes—whether it's theft, extortion or fraud. Cyber criminals are a slippery bunch, adept at covering their digital fingerprints to stay one step ahead of the law. One of the most effective ways of fighting any crime is to discourage would-be criminals by making an example of lawbreakers.

Yet, in an ironic twist of fate, on Tuesday, the very day that a federal judge in Seattle made an example out of so-called "spam king" Robert Alan Soloway, 28, by sentencing him to nearly four years in prison, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado announced that its "spam king," Edward "Eddie" Davidson, had "walked away from" a minimum security federal prison camp a few days earlier. Davidson, 35, had been sentenced in April to serve 21 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $714,139 in restitution to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service after being convicted on criminal spam charges. He served less than two months before giving the guards at his Florence, Colo., prison the slip, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a press release. Davidson escaped when his wife was leaving the prison after visiting him, Rocky Mountain News reported Wednesday . He exited the prison, forced his wife into their car, drove off and was last seen in Lakewood, Colo., more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) away.

According to Davidson's plea agreement, he owned a business named Power Promoters that, between July 2002 and April 2007, provided promotional services for companies by sending out large volumes of unsolicited commercial electronic messages (aka spam). For the first few years, U.S. Attorney's Office said, his spamming was designed to promote the visibility and sale of products such as watches and perfume. In 2005 he graduated to promoting penny stocks on behalf of small public companies, sending hundreds of thousands of unsolicited e-mail messages to potential purchasers worldwide. The e-mail messages contained false header information that concealed the actual sender from the recipients.

Seattle spam king Soloway could have received up to 26 years in prison and $525,000 in fines for after being indicted on charges of mail fraud, electronic mail fraud and willful failure to file tax returns. He was caught spamming tens of millions of e-mail messages through his company, the Newport Internet Marketing Corporation, over more than three years and admitted to earning $309,725 in 2005 (although he failed to file an income tax return). He earned more than $700,000 over three years through spamming, according to PC World.

Soloway and Davidson are among a handful of spammers who have been locked up for violating state or federal laws, which makes their cases all the more interesting. Last week, Adam Vitale of Brooklyn, N.Y., was sentenced to more than two years in prison followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay America Online (AOL) $183,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to sending spam to about 1.2 million unsuspecting AOL subscribers. Jeremy Jaynes of Raleigh, N.C., was sentenced in 2004 to the stiffest spam penalty to date—nine years in a Virginia prison for his spam crimes. Jaynes was found guilty under a Virginia state law that prohibits e-mails marketers from sending more than a certain amount of spams--he sent hundreds of thousands--within a given time frame and prohibits the use of fake e-mail addresses.

Otherwise, law enforcement has had a tough time making charges stemming from violations of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003 (which prohibits sending unwanted commercial e-mail messages) stick. The Spamhaus Project, a nonprofit anti-spam organization, says that CAN-SPAM doesn't work because it seeks to regulate, rather than ban, these unwanted messages.

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