'Buffalo Spammer' Convicted

A man accused of using EarthLink e-mail accounts to release a flood of spam has been convicted on charges of identity theft and falsifying business records, according to the New York State Attorney General.

Howard Carmack of Buffalo, New York, also known as the "Buffalo Spammer," has been found guilty by a jury in Erie County, New York, on 14 counts. The conviction included charges he had stolen the identity of two Buffalo-area residents, which he used to send out more than 800 million messages, according to a statement from New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Carmack is scheduled to be sentenced on May 27, and faces three to seven years in prison.

Invoked New Law

The New York case against Carmack was the first to use a new state identity-theft law that makes identity theft a misdemeanor, says Brad Maione, a spokesperson for the attorney general's office. Previously, identity theft was not a crime, he says.

The charges of falsifying business records stem from Carmack changing e-mail header information to create forged sender addresses for the spam messages.

The criminal investigation was a cooperative effort by the attorney general's office, the New York State Police, and the FBI's Buffalo Cyber Task Force. The state sought criminal charges, and EarthLink followed with a civil case. The ISP's internal investigation identified Carmack as the source of a spike in spam traffic from the Buffalo area.

In that case, EarthLink accused Carmack of using the e-mail accounts set up with stolen credit card numbers to send out a flood of spam, often from accounts registered to family members, that advertised a variety of get-rich-quick schemes, herbal stimulants, and cable television descramblers. A district court in Atlanta awarded EarthLink a $16 million settlement against Carmack, then 36, in May 2003.

EarthLink's abuse team manager, Mary Youngblood, testified against Carmack in the state trial, providing evidence about the methods Carmack used to send out the junk e-mail messages.

Family Bewildered

The ruling against Carmack has been devastating for his family, according to Joseph Carmack, Howard Carmack's uncle.

Carmack may have been spamming, but didn't understand the severity of the charges, the uncle said in a phone interview. At one point, Howard Carmack told his mother that spamming isn't illegal, citing newspaper reports, and that everyone online does it, the elder Carmack says.

"The [attorney general] has taken one thing and made it into something different," the uncle says, adding he had not heard about the civil case against his nephew by EarthLink or the $16 million judgment.

Joseph Carmack, a retired mail carrier who lives in Angola, New York, painted a picture of a large and tight-knit family unschooled in computers and technology, and torn apart by charges stemming from activity they don't understand.

"Is he guilty? How can I say? He does know how to use computers and spam--whatever that means," the uncle says.

The elder Carmack also takes issue with local news reports that name himself as both a suspect and as a family member who accused Howard Carmack, a charge he denies.

The attorney general's office declines to comment on whether Joseph Carmack is under investigation. An earlier statement, when Howard Carmack was arraigned in May 2003, does not mention Joseph Carmack.

In a statement, EarthLink praises the New York attorney general's office for the conviction. The ISP says the decision demonstrates that "spammers who continue to send illegal emails will not escape the law."

Spammers are on notice that they can be sent to prison for their activities, in addition to being held liable for millions of dollars in damages, the company says.

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