COLUMBIA— A New Jersey man plead guilty Tuesday in federal court to his role in a nationwide e-mail spamming case connected with two Missouri brothers, according to Beth Phillips, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri. The Shah brothers are accused of sending millions of spam e-mail messages through the computer network at MU while Osmaan Shah was a student.
Paul Zucker, 57, of Wayne, N.J., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs in Kansas City on Tuesday to the charge from a federal indictment in April 2009, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Amir Ahmad Shah of St. Louis; his brother Osmaan Ahmad Shah of Columbia; their business, I2O Inc.; and Liu Guang Ming, a citizen of China, were also charged in the 51-count indictment.
Amir and Osmaan Shah had been scheduled to make their pleas Tuesday, but both hearings were canceled and haven’t been rescheduled, according to Don Ledford of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas City.
Zucker admitted to participating in an e-mail scheme that targeted thousands of colleges and universities across the U.S. from January 2004 to April 2009. He admitted to providing proxies, which are servers that allow indirect network connections to computers to camouflage the originating source of an e-mail. He also admitted to providing bulk e-mail software, which falsified e-mail components to send spam messages.
The United States Probation Office will schedule a sentencing hearing after a presentence investigation. Zucker could face a sentence of up to five years in a federal prison without parole plus a fine up to $250,000 under federal statutes.
The indictment said the Shah brothers developed e-mail address extracting programs that illegally harvested more than 8 million student e-mail addresses from more than 2,000 colleges and universities. They then used the database of e-mail addresses to send spam messages selling various products and services to the students. They conducted at least 31 of these campaigns and sold more that $4.1 million worth of products, according to the indictment.
“The University of Missouri has worked closely alongside our office throughout this investigation,” said Matt J. Whitworth, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, at the time of the indictment.
A press release from Whitworth's office said that MU’s network was damaged by the large amount of network resources and bandwidth used during the transmission of the e-mails sent through its system. The university had to spend time, money and resources to repair the network and defend it from future spam e-mail campaigns.
Osmaan Shah graduated with a master's degree in business administration in spring 2009.
The Shah brothers made money through the scam by selling products themselves and by charging a referral fee to send spam for others. They sold products including digital cameras, MP3 players, magazine subscriptions, spring break travel offers, pepper spray and teeth whiteners. They also solicited students to subscribe to their social networking site, noog.com. They used false information in the scams and claimed to be associated with various colleges and universities.
Zucker partnered with the Shahs and leased space on Ming’s servers in China. He sent spam e-mail to promote his own products.