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A brother and sister who sent unsolicited junk e-mail to millions of America Online customers were convicted Wednesday in the nation’s first felony prosecution of distributors of spam. Jurors who convicted Jeremy D. Jaynes, 30, and Jessica DeGroot, 28, later sentenced Jaynes to a nine-year prison term and fined DeGroot $7,500 for three convictions each of sending e-mails with fraudulent and untraceable routing information. A third defendant, Richard Rutkowski, was acquitted of similar charges. Jurors deliberated for a day and a half, not including the penalty phase. Prosecutors compared Jaynes and DeGroot, both of the Raleigh, N.C., area, to modern-day snake-oil salesmen who used the Internet to peddle junk like a “FedEx refund processor” that supposedly allowed people to earn $75 an hour while working from home. In one month alone, Jaynes received 10,000 credit card orders, each for $39.95, for the processor. “This was just a case of fraud,” said state prosecutor Samuel E. Fishel IV. “This is a snake-oil salesman in a new format.” Prosecutors asked the jury to impose a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for Jaynes, and to consider an unspecified prison term for his sister. Defense lawyers asked jurors to spare the defendants prison terms. David Oblon, representing Jaynes, argued that it was inappropriate for prosecutors to seek what he called an excessive punishment, given that this is the first prosecution under the Virginia law. He also noted that his client, a North Carolina resident, would have been unaware of the Virginia law. Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Orne has not yet ruled on an earlier motion asking that the case be dismissed. He said during the trial that he had a hard time allowing the prosecution of DeGroot and Rutkowski to go forward to the jury. The case against Rutkowski was the weakest, said his attorney Leo Andrews Jr., “and I would think the commonwealth would agree about that as well.” Virginia prosecuted the case under a law that took effect last year that bars people from sending bulk e-mail that is unsolicited and masks its origin. AOL, which is a unit of New York-based Time Warner Inc., is based in Dulles, Va. Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore called Virginia’s anti-spam law the toughest in America. “Spam is a nuisance to millions of Americans, but it is also a major problem for businesses large and small because the thousands of unwanted e-mails create havoc as they attempt to conduct business,” Kilgore said in a statement. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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