- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas attorney general has filed a lawsuit against a 22-year-old college student and his business partner, accusing them of illegally sending hundreds of thousands of unsolicited, misleading e-mails.

Ryan Pitylak, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, heads the fourth-largest spamming operation in the world, Attorney General Gregg Abbott said.

The lawsuit filed Thursday says Mr. Pitylak and Mark Trotter, his 40-year-old business partner from Encinitas, Calif., have been sending the e-mails since at least Sept. 1, 2003.

“We want to make clear that these defendants we are suing today and any other illegal spammers in the state of Texas can’t hide behind a computer screen any longer,” Mr. Abbott said in filing the state’s first e-mail spamming lawsuit.

Lin Hughes, attorney for Mr. Pitylak and Mr. Trotter, said her clients took great care to make sure the e-mails were legal.

The lawsuit seeks millions of dollars for violations of the federal Controlling Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, known as the Can-Spam Act. The act made illegal sending uninvited e-mails that could mislead recipients.

The lawsuit also says the two men violated Texas laws prohibiting unsolicited e-mail and deceptive trade practices. It asks a judge to stop LeadPlex Inc., LeadPlex LLC and PayPerAction LLC from sending e-mails.

Mr. Pitylak and Mr. Trotter began PayPerAction in 2002 and have operated the business under at least 250 different names, Mr. Abbott said.

According to the lawsuit, the e-mails contained official-looking subject lines such as “Re: your past due bills” and “Urgent: Household Loan Memorandum: Please Read.”

When recipients clicked on links in the e-mails, they were asked to provide personal information that Mr. Pitylak and Mr. Trotter sold to other companies for as much as $28 per reference.

According to Travis County tax records, Mr. Pitylak owns a $450,000 home in an upscale Austin neighborhood. A woman who answered the door said Mr. Pitylak was out of town on business and would not be answering phone calls. Mr. Pitylak did return an e-mail, referring all questions to his attorney.

Mr. Pitylak and Mr. Trotter sold their interests in LeadPlex and PayPerAction to Hong Kong-based Eastmark Technology Limited, which is also named in the lawsuit, in March, their lawyer said. Miss Hughes said Mr. Pitylak and Mr. Trotter still act as consultants to Eastmark.

She said her clients did not violate the Can-Spam Act. She said each e-mail contains a disclaimer indicating the purpose is to gather information and a link allowing recipients to unsubscribe to the e-mails, as required by the act.

While lawsuits against spammers won’t stem the tide of e-mails flooding in-boxes nationwide, Jim Prendergrast, president of Americans for Technology Leadership, a consumer advocacy group, said it’s a start.

“It’s not going to all of the sudden reduce your spam by 30 messages,” he said. “But as we see more lawsuits, coupled with better technology and better consumer habits, I think we’ll see that amount go down.”

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