From his 17th-floor Seattle apartment overlooking Puget Sound, Robert A. Soloway allegedly ran an illicit network of computers around the world, secretly commandeering the machines of thousands of unsuspecting bystanders. Prosecutors say Internet users who clicked on infected e-mails and Web sites inadvertently took part in his criminal endeavor: spam.
Soloway, 27, used his empire of hijacked “zombie” computers to send tens of millions of unsolicited e-mail messages over the past four years, prosecutors allege. Described as a spammer since he was a teenager, he allegedly covered his digital tracks using Chinese servers, fabricated Web sites and the purloined identities of hundreds of Internet users whose names and e-mail addresses were slapped on the bulk mailings. He opened and closed bank accounts faster than creditors could track them, prosecutors said.
But federal authorities caught up this week with the man prosecutors call the “spam king” and arrested him on 35 charges of fraud, identity theft and money laundering, casting a light on the byzantine, highly lucrative underworld of mass e-mail marketing. Soloway pleaded not guilty.