- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

BURNSVILLE, Minn. - Christopher Smith’s neighbors didn’t know exactly what he did for a living. But they knew well that he liked to collect expensive cars and set off fireworks at all hours.

At an age when most of his peers barely could afford a new car, Mr. Smith was amassing a collection that would include BMWs, Hummers, a Ferrari, a Jaguar and a Lamborghini. And when other twentysomethings were trying to save for down payments on modest starter homes, Mr. Smith paid $1.1 million for a house in an affluent suburb.

Mr. Smith got all that through his successes in massive unsolicited e-mail marketing, authorities say. The Spamhaus Project, an anti-spam group, considered him one of the world’s worst offenders.

He was 25 when federal authorities in May shut down his flagship company, Xpress Pharmacy Direct, and seized $1.8 million in luxury cars, two homes and $1.3 million in cash held by Mr. Smith and associates.

But even then, prosecutors say, he refused to give up.

They say he tried to restart his online pharmacy from an offshore haven — the Dominican Republic — intending to build his business back up to $4.1 million in sales by its second month, right where it was previously.

Brian McWilliams, author of “Spam Kings,” said young people like Mr. Smith aren’t unusual in the fast-buck world of spammers.

“A lot of them are guys who haven’t had success anywhere else in life, but they find this easy money to be made in the spam trade,” he said. “They don’t want to give it up.”

Authorities were waiting when Mr. Smith flew back to Minneapolis in late June.

Mr. Smith remains free on bail as he awaits another hearing Thursday on contempt-of-court charges, for which prosecutors are seeking six months in jail. He also faces a grand jury investigation of his e-mail businesses, which could lead to more charges and potentially longer sentences.

The high school dropout, operating under the nickname Rizler, got his start in the late 1990s, selling police radar and laser jammers. Along the way, he added cable TV descramblers and other products.

After Time Warner Cable got an injunction in 2002 putting Mr. Smith out of the descrambler business, he diversified and generated more than $18 million in sales from drugs online, including the often-abused narcotic painkiller Vicodin, without obtaining proper prescriptions, federal prosecutors say.

Mr. Smith’s former neighbors in a hilly, heavily wooded part of Burnsville were glad to see him go after he moved to pricier, more secluded digs in Prior Lake during the winter.

Sue Parson said things began to get out of hand in May last year. When the family complained about fireworks, she said, Mr. Smith’s response was: “Too bad. We can set them off if we want to.”

Neighbors didn’t know exactly what Mr. Smith did for a living. Mrs. Parson said he told one person that he had a lawn service, another that he was “into computers” and yet another that he was “into pharmaceuticals.”

“There were these Hummers outside, the limos outside,” she said. “It was like, ‘Where do these people get their money from?’”

Four days after a federal judge put Xpress Pharmacy Direct into receivership, Mr. Smith made what prosecutors say was a brazen play to stay in business.

Mr. Smith took off for the Dominican Republic and went to work setting up a new online pharmacy and call center, where, prosecutors say, he hoped he would be safe from extradition and out of the reach of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Former employees, his wife and his girlfriend brought or sent Mr. Smith “substantial sums of cash” there, and one former employee passed him a disk with data on more than 100,000 Xpress Pharmacy customers, court documents and testimony say.

In the Dominican Republic, Mr. Smith was a guest of Creaghan Harry, whom the government described as another notorious spammer.

According to the court documents, Mr. Harry, who runs a call center there, earned more than $2 million from Mr. Smith for telemarketing.

Mr. Harry said the call center he manages, Santo Domingo-based Americas Best Worldwide, was just one of many that took orders for Mr. Smith. He said it had no other connection with Mr. Smith’s new business.

Whether it was a business trip or vacation, it ended with Mr. Smith going straight to jail when he returned to Minnesota.

Authorities arrested him on a contempt-of-court warrant and said in court last month they plan to seek unspecified criminal charges against him. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Engisch told U.S. District Judge Michael Davis that a grand jury has been hearing evidence against Mr. Smith and others she did not name. She said she did not know when indictments might come up, nor did she say what the charges might be.

Mr. Smith and his stepfather declined to comment on his legal troubles as he left the courthouse the next day after his release on a $50,000 bail.

Mr. Smith’s father, Scott Smith, declined to comment for this story after initially agreeing to talk. In an earlier interview with the Star Tribune, he portrayed his son as a business genius who dropped out of high school because he was bored.

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