- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

America Online Inc. has filed suit against three Florida residents accused of sending millions of unwanted e-mail messages as part of an international spam ring.

The Sterling, Va., Internet service provider said three employees of an Orlando-area software firm sent more than 35 million spam e-mail messages to AOL members between January and June 2003. Most of the e-mail featured advertisements for low-rate mortgage offers and generated about 1.5 million complaints from AOL users.

Charles Henry and Heidi Miller of Winter Garden, Fla., and James Connor of Longwood, Fla., are named in the suit. Their company, Connor-Miller Software Inc., also is named. AOL is seeking $1.6 million in direct damages, plus punitive damages and the forfeiture of the defendants’ computer equipment.

The suit asserts that in addition to sending millions of unwanted messages, commonly known as spam, the defendants specially configured a bank of e-mail servers to make spamming easier. It also says that Mr. Connor wrote software code designed to prevent the e-mail from being detected by AOL’s spam filters.

AOL filed its suit Friday in federal District Court in Orlando, Fla. The company first sued Connor-Miller Software in Virginia last year. But a federal judge threw out the suit in December, rejecting AOL’s claims that Virginia had jurisdiction because AOL is located there and the e-mails had gone through its computers.

A separate suit is pending in Virginia against two Americans in Thailand — Jonathan Beyer and Joseph Conrad — who hired Connor-Miller Software.

thinks the three defendants worked with Jonathan Beyer and Joseph Conrad, two U.S. citizens living in Thailand, to send out the e-mail. The company previously had sued all five, but a judge dropped the case against Mr. and Mrs. Miller and Mr. Connor in December. The case against Mr. Beyer and Mr. Conrad is ongoing.

Also yesterday, Internet service provider Earthlink expanded a separate lawsuit it filed in August against a group of accused spammers operating in several states. Earthlink said the spam ring has sent more than 250 million spam messages to its subscribers.

AOL said it is not filing its lawsuit using the nation’s federal antispam law, known as the Can Spam Act, because the evidence in the case was collected before Can Spam was enacted on Jan. 1.

Florida is thought to be a common residence for spammers, who reside there in part because it does not have an antispam law. According to the Registry of Known Spam Offenders, a list run by British nonprofit Spamhaus, three of the top 10 spammers in the world operate out of Florida. But AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said the company is looking to send a message that spammers in Florida can be caught.

The company plans to present as evidence transcripts of online conversations between the defendants, in which they discuss their e-mail activities. According to one transcript, Mr. Beyer boasted that, “I want to be #1 on AOL’s most-wanted spammers list. … We can be the spam kings of AOL.”

In another conversation, Mrs. Miller discusses having a collection of more than 350 million e-mail addresses.

The defendants could not be reached for comment, but in an interview with Bloomberg News, Mrs. Miller denied any wrongdoing and said the Connor-Miller company maintained a computer network for Mr. Beyer, but that it has not done business with him since April.

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