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Spam 'Godfather' gets 51 months in prison

These past few days have seen some notable cyber justice cases: Late Monday, Alan M. Ralsky -- a man dubbed the "Godfather of Spam" -- was sentenced to 51 months in prison. And on Friday, a California man pleaded guilty in a case involving the sale of counterfeit high-tech computer parts to the U.S. military.

Ralsky, 64, of West Bloomfield, Mich., joined two co-conspirators in earning stiff prison sentences for long careers of blasting junk e-mail. Following more than four years in prison, Ralsky will be subject to five years of supervised release and will forfeit $250,000 the government seized from him in December 2007, the Justice Department said.


According to the government, Ralsky was a top promoter of so-called pump-and-dump scams, schemes in which fraudsters buy up a bunch of low-priced microcap stock, blast out millions of spam e-mails touting it as a hot buy and then dump their shares as soon as the share price ticks up from all of the spam respondents buying into the scam.

Anti-spam group said Ralsky has been spamming since at least 1997, using dozens of aliases and tens of thousands of "zombies" or hacked PCs to relay junk e-mail.

Last January, a federal grand jury named Ralsky and 10 others from China, Canada, Hong Kong and Russia in a 41-count indictment for wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and violations of the CAN-SPAM Act. Ralsky's 48-year-old son-in-law, Scott K. Bradley, also was among the indicted, and was sentenced last week to 40 months in prison and the same supervised release terms.

Also sentenced in connection with the scheme was How Wai John Hui, a 51-year-old man who held dual citizenship in Canada and Hong Kong. Hui got 51 months in prison, followed by three years supervised release. John S. Brown, 45, of Fresno, Calif., who received 32 months and a three years supervised release.


In a separate action, Neil Felahy, 32, of Newport Coast, Calif., pleaded guilty (PDF) to one count of conspiring to traffic in counterfeit goods to defraud the United States. Federal prosecutors say Felahy and several co-defendants sold the knockoff parts to the U.S. Navy using a number of California companies, with names like Pentagon Components and Force-One Electronics. The government alleges Felahy and others took trademark-branded integrated circuits and other computer components, ground off the original markings, re-branded them with other trademarks and passed the devices off as military grade.

Why is fudging the label on computer parts sold to the government such a big deal? The Justice Department explains:

"The use of counterfeit integrated circuits can result in product malfunction or failure, and can also cause serious bodily injury from electrocution and, in some circumstances, death. Markings on integrated circuits indicate a part is 'commercial grade,' 'industrial grade,' or 'military grade.' Military grade markings signify that the part has been specially manufactured, among other things, to withstand extreme temperature ranges and high rates of vibration. Legitimate manufacturers subject such parts to specialized testing not used in the production of differently graded parts. Military grade integrated circuits are sold to the U.S. military at a higher price than commercial or industrial grade parts because of the special manufacture and testing required."

Felahy faces up to 51 months in prison and more than $2 million in fines. His sentencing is expected sometime next year.

By Brian Krebs  |  November 24, 2009; 1:16 AM ET
Categories:  Cyber Justice  | Tags: alan ralsky, spam  
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Jail is a good place for this guy. A shame he is only facing 51 months though - he will probably only serve a fraction of that.

Posted by: jackrussell252521 | November 24, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, in China, 2 are executed for being involved in the tainted milk scam.

If we had that kind of punishment for corporate and government fraud, there'd be a heck of a lot less of it.

Posted by: | November 24, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

jackrussell252521: I know I'll feel safer the next 51 months knowing that my tax dollars are paying for room and board for this gentleman. Not getting spam is certainly worth that! Oh wait, I'm still getting spam.

brucerealtor: Wouldn't it be neat to explain why we had executed someone who hadn't committed fraud? That'd be just as fun as explaining why we executed people who hadn't committed murder. I guess we'll also invent the foolproof jury trial at the same time as wildly expanding death penalty trials. Of course folks engaging in illegal activity generally do so from the belief they won't get caught, but the magic deterrent powers of the death penalty will ensure that changes, right?

I'm all for these gentlemen receiving hefty fines for their anti-social behavior. I don't want to pay their living expenses just to get revenge.

Posted by: jjhare | November 24, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Brian, in short, thank you for all of your work in helping rid us of vermin like this. After the big take down some months back spam to my email has virtually stopped. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Posted by: karlmedisch | November 24, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

As represhensible as the 'Oddfather' is, Felahy is much worse. The wrong circuitboard in the wrong place and, oops, there goes multi-million dollar airplane, a highly trained pilot, the pilot's destroyed family, oh and by the way, national security takes a hit. I'd call that twenty to life and total forfeiture.

Posted by: featheredge99 | November 24, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Please tell me they are not going to grant either of these clowns internet privileges while in the joint.

Posted by: jamshark70 | November 26, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

jjhare --- Hefty fines do not discourage criminal activity, as any brother packing heat in the hood will tell you.

The more draconian the sentence, the more folks obey the law, but 'out of place' sentences also do not discourage criminal activity.

And gun laws are seen by many today as being out of place with mandatory sanctions for otherwise law abiding citizens.

Then there's what is known as the Sacco-Vanzetti technique, where the government gets a conviction [or guilty plea] to a minor offense, only to couple it to a more major offense later in a later trial.

Bar Associations are famous for using the Sacco-Vanzetti technique when they want to sacco bar members.

Posted by: | November 29, 2009 3:02 AM | Report abuse

@jamshark70 - Excellent thinking to restrict these spammers from the internet while in the slammer. More publicity should be generated that spammers can, and will be caught.

Posted by: mymymichl | November 30, 2009 6:30 PM | Report abuse

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