'Godfather of Spam' going to prison

Federal judge sentences e-mail spammer Alan Ralsky and others involved in an Internet stock scam with more than 4 years in prison.

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A man who claims to be the "Godfather of Spam" has been sentenced to 51 months in prison by a federal judge in Detroit for his lead role in an e-mail stock scam scheme, according to court documents.

Alan Ralsky, 64, also faces five years probation and will have to forfeit $250,000 that was seized by the government in 2007.

U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani also sentenced three others Monday for their involvement in the scheme, including Ralsky's son-in-law Scott Bradley, 48, who received 40 months in prison and five years probation.

Ralsky and Bradley were charged for conspiring to commit wire and mail fraud and violating the CAN-SPAM Act, which criminalizes large, commercial e-mail messages sent using an unauthorized computer or with the intent to hide the e-mail's original source, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. They were also charged with committing wire fraud and engaging in money laundering.

Ralsky and Bradley, both of West Bloomfield, Mich., pleaded guilty to the charges in June.

Ralsky's history as a prolific spammer dates back to 1997. Before the Bush administration passed a law to crack down on e-mail marketers in 2003, Ralsky reportedly sent 70 million messages a day from fake names.

In the operation that began in January 2004, the team sent billions of illegal e-mail advertisements to inflate the price of Chinese penny stocks and then reaped the profit, according to the prosecutor's office. They raked in nearly $3 million during the summer of 2005.

The prosecution said Ralsky worked with How Wai John Hui, a resident of Hong Kong and Canada, to run the operation. Hui was also sentenced to 51 months in prison and 3 years of probation, and he agreed to forfeit $500,000.

Hui was the CEO of China World Trade and served as the lead dealmaker representing companies whose stocks were being promoted in the spam e-mails. Hui plead guilty in December 2008.

John Bown, 45, of Fresno, Calif., was sentenced to 32 months in prison for his role in the scheme. He will face 3 years of probation and will forfeit $120,000.

"With today's sentence of the self-proclaimed 'Godfather of Spam,' Alan Ralsky, and three others who played central roles in a complicated stock span pump- and-dump scheme, the court has made it clear that advancing fraud through the abuse of the Internet will lead to several years in prison," said U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg, in a statement Monday.

Though the government originally recommended that Ralsky receive up to 87 months in prison, it lowered the sentence recommendation range in November to between 35 and 43 months because of Ralsky's cooperation.

Ralsky's lawyer, Steven Fishman, said he believed the sentence was "excessive."

"It was the most disappointing event that I have ever experienced in 36 years as a lawyer," Fishman said. "The sentence was higher than even what the government recommended, and I never imagined that in a million years. Everyone in the court house was stunned."

The FBI conducted a 3-year investigation and indicted the 11 involved individuals in December 2007.

Five others, who also pleaded guilty, were to be given their sentence Tuesday. Cases for two other individuals that were indicted were still pending. To top of page

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