A famed spammer’s long career in the business looks like it’s coming to a close, and could end with a prison sentence. Sanford Wallace-long ago dubbed “Spamford” Wallace-has been the bane of social networks like Facebook and MySpace for years, but last week he turned himself in to the FBI. You wouldn’t know it from looking at his Google+ account, though.
Wallace is a 43-year-old Las Vegas resident who moonlights as DJ MasterWeb when he isn’t engaged in e-mail hijinks. He surrendered to the FBI on Thursday and will be prosecuted in San Jose federal court. He’s scheduled to appear there on Aug. 22. He stands accused of sending more than 27 million spam messages, including an alleged scheme to spam Facebook users in 2008 and 2009 that compromised about 500,000 legitimate Facebook accounts.
Even before the criminal indictment issued, Wallace had been on the receiving end of massive civil judgments for violating the federal anti-spam law, called the CAN-SPAM act. Facebook got a $711 million judgment against Wallace in 2009; that followed the $230 million anti-spam judgment that MySpace won in 2008.
Those massive fines didn’t follow trials. They were “default judgments” that went into effect because Wallace simply didn’t show up in court to defend himself. The civil cases also resulted in a judicial order that Wallace stop using MySpace and Facebook. He might not have been able to help himself, however-he’s accused of violating that order by logging into his Facebook account on a Virgin Airlines flight from Las Vegas to New York.
Needless to say, social networks probably shouldn’t count on any big payments from Wallace, although if convicted some restitution could be part of his sentence. He filed for bankruptcy back in 2009, just before he made a rare court appearance, realizing the threat of criminal charges was beginning to materialize.
If convicted on all counts, Wallace could be facing up to 40 years in prison. (That’s mainly because the three charges of damaging a protected computer are felonies that can be punished with up to 10 years each.) But federal judges have a lot of discretion in sentencing, and if he is convicted, it’s hard to believe a federal judge would slap a spammer with a prison sentence more suited to a murderer.
Facebook issued a statement form its lead security counsel, Chris Sonderby, saying: “We applaud the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI to bring spammers to justice. Two years ago, Facebook sued Wallace and a federal court ordered him to pay a $711 million judgment for sending unwanted messages and wall posts to people on Facebook. Now Wallace also faces serious jail time for this illegal conduct.”
Mike Masnick at Techdirt has some more history about Wallace. Apparently he started off his career in the junk-fax business, and moved on to email in the mid-90s. Wallace also had a run-in with the FTC over distributing spyware back in 2004.
Wallace didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail to his personal account. He seems to be favoring Google+ these days, and recent posts indicate he’s taking the episode in stride. He’s been posting party pics from around the San Francisco Bay Area on his Google+ account.
The tagline in Wallace’s Google+ account now reads, “2011 will prove to be an interesting year in my life.” That is certainly true.