America Online, Inc, in an ongoing effort to hold spammers accountable for their illegal and harmful actions, today announced an important legal action targeting several Florida junk emailers who conspired with international spam operators based in Thailand.
AOL has filed a civil lawsuit against four named defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division. The Company is alleging violations of the Virginia Computer Crimes Act, the Federal Computer Fraud & Abuse Act, and State of Florida Common Law. Civil penalties being sought include injunctive relief; $1.6 million in statutory damages; possible additional compensatory and punitive damages; and asset forfeiture.
AOL has been involved in an investigation into the practices of the named Defendants for over a year, beginning in January 2003. The essence of the claims are accusations of a conspiracy among the defendants themselves, as well as third parties located overseas, to send tens of millions of junk emails with hypertext links advertising low-mortgage rate offers to AOL members. The more than 35 million spam emails cited by AOL’s lawsuit generated approximately 1.5 million complaints from members, and violated AOL’s “Unsolicited Bulk Email (UBE)” policy.
The lawsuits’ named Defendants include: “Connor-Miller Software, Inc.”, Charles Henry Miller Jr., Heidi Miller; and James Connor. Connor-Miller Software, Inc. is a corporation incorporated under the laws of the State of Florida and is located in Winter Garden, Florida. The Millers are a married couple residing in Winter Garden, Florida, and Mr. Miller is an officer and director of Connor-Miller Software. James Connor is an officer and director of Connor-Miller Software, and resides in Longwood, Florida.
“This lawsuit demonstrates AOL’s strong and ongoing commitment to the fight against spam,” said Randall Boe, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of AOL. “We will pursue spammers, their accomplices, their co-conspirators, and anyone who operates on their behalf – no matter where they live. The bottom line is, if you are spamming AOL members – or helping someone who is – we will find you, and we will stop you.”
The Company’s lawsuit alleges the Defendants conspired to set up and maintain a bank of email servers in an office suite in Ocoee, Florida for the spam ring’s use and specially configured the equipment to facilitate spamming. The lawsuit further alleges that Connor wrote code for the bulk email software program the spammers were using in an attempt to evade AOL’s mail filters and avoid detection.
The Defendants’ co-conspirators living in Thailand include Jonathan Beyer and Joseph Conrad. AOL alleges that Beyer, a U.S. citizen residing in Thailand, headed the conspiracy and, in addition to spamming, also operates a number of adult websites. AOL alleges that Conrad, also a U.S. citizen residing in Thailand, assisted in establishing and operating Beyer’s Internet operations.
AOL has already taken legal action against Beyer and Conrad in America Online, Inc. v. Jonathan Beyer, et al. (03-474-A), filed in April 2003 and now pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The defendants named in the new Florida lawsuit had been previously named as co-defendants in the original AOL v. Beyer complaint, but the Court dismissed the Connor-Miller defendants in a December 2003 ruling, on grounds they did not have sufficient ties to Virginia to be sued there.
According to the global ‘Register of Known Spam Operations’ (“ROKSO”), maintained by The Spamhaus Project (www.spamhaus.org), three of the Top 10 known worldwide spammers reside in Florida – more than any other U.S. state.
AOL has a long and distinguished legal track record of taking action against spammers and their accomplices, filing over 25 complaints against over 100 individuals and corporations alleged to have spammed AOL members since 1997.
In December, AOL collaborated with the Virginia Attorney General, state law enforcement, and industry colleagues to announce the first-ever criminal indictments of two spammers from North Carolina using the new, toughest-in-the-nation Virginia anti-spam statute.
AOL has also been at the forefront of an ongoing effort to encourage states to draft and adopt new, tough anti-spam laws based on Virginia’s statute; the most recent state to introduce such legislation was Ohio in January.