US jails 'godfather of spam' for over four years

handcuffs on computer

A US court has sentenced the so-called "godfather of spam" to over four years in prison, sending down three co-conspirators as well.

Alan M. Ralsky, 64, was accused of using spam sent via a botnet to defraud the stock market by promoting "pink sheet" shares using false information.

"Through this conspiracy Ralsky and the others were able to manipulate the stock market and maximise their profit," said FBI agent Andrew G. Arena, in a statement.

"They flooded our e-mail boxes with unwanted spam e-mail and attempted to use a botnet to hijack our computers [to] assist them in the scheme," Arena added.

Ralsky was sentenced to 51 months in prison for a stock fraud scheme involving bulk spamming. He must also serve a five-year suspended sentence and forfeit $250,000 seized by authorities.

"With today's sentence of the self-proclaimed godfather of spam,' Alan Ralsky, and three others who played central roles in a complicated stock spam pump and dump scheme, the Court has made it clear that advancing fraud through abuse of the internet will lead to several years in prison," said US Attorney Terrence Berg for the Eastern District of Michigan in a statement from the Department of Justice.

Ralsky's co-spammer and son-in-law Scott Bradley faces 40 months in prison and pays back $250,000, while Chinese-Canadian How Wai John Hui was also given a 51 month sentence and pays $500,000. Californian John Brown was given a 32 month sentence and ordered to pay $120,000.

Microsoft's role

Microsoft claimed some credit for the convictions. "Microsoft's Internet Safety Enforcement Team became aware of Ralsky's network in 2004 and documented evidence of spam e-mails and botnets used to advance "pump and dump" stock manipulation schemes," wrote Tim Cranton, Microsoft's Associate General Counsel, in a blog post.

"Microsoft turned the evidence over to the Department of Justice and supported the government's three-year investigation," he added.

The three-year case was investigated by the FBI, US Postal Inspection Servce, Internal Revenue Service, and the US Securities and Exchange Comission.

Read on for more on the jail terms faced by computer criminals.