"Viagra spam" emperor gets 30 years behind bars
Christopher Smith (27), a high school drop-out also known as Chris (or Bruce, or Robert) Johnson, Eric Smith and Dieter W. Doneit-Schmitz, but better known in the internet community as the spammer "Rizler", spent a colourful four years sending billions of spam emails to promote a succession of highly profitable illegal enterprises that funded an extravagant lifestyle even by American standards. But all this has come to an end for Smith, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison on August 1st; surprisingly, though, not for spamming.
From 2002 Smith was distributing spam under the alias "Rizler", advertising porn, "generic viagra" and dodgy college degrees among other things. Time Warner obtained an injunction against him that year for offering satellite descramblers by email. Then, in 2003, he apparently hijacked eight /16 IP address blocks and used these to send 1.13 billion spam emails to AOL customers: activities that directly led to the introduction of the 2003 CAN-Spam Act.
In 2004 he founded his web pharmacy business, which rapidly expanded to necessitate a call centre with 85 employees. He marketed prescription drugs by spam email, obtaining his supplies via illegal prescriptions issued by a New Jersey doctor and cashing them in small local pharmacies. It is estimated that 72,000 such prescriptions were processed in the two years the scam was in operation.
Court orders were obtained in May 2005 to shut down the web pharmacy, but Smith fled immediately to the Dominican Republic on a forged passport and re-opened operations from there with the collusion of some of his employees. Over the two years, it has been suggested that up to three people have died as a result of using Smith's services.
Arrested in September 2006, Smith apparently tampered with the prison phone system to evade automatic call recording, and then attempted to negotiate hits on the family of a witness in his trial and of his own wife. After a trial process lasting almost a year, he was sentenced on August 1st to 30 years incarceration in Federal prison on nine counts including illegal distribution of pharmaceuticals, conspiracy and money laundering. The unusually severe sentence is ascribed as much to Smith's general behaviour (absconding and making death threats) as to the specific offences with which he was charged. Strangely, despite the CAN-Spam Act, none of the charges related directly to his use of spam.
Smith, who may spend some of his time from now on missing the plush mansion and up to twenty luxury cars on which he expended most of the estimated US$ 24 million made by the pharmacy scam, stated that most of his businesses "have been on the edge of what the government liked and didn't like". But despite their absence from the charge list he can possibly take a little consolation from knowing that he is the first internet criminal to have had a law passed expressly to curb his personal activities as a spammer.