31-year-old Phillip Fleitz from Indianapolis was recently sentenced to 27 months jail time after breaching the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003: A law passed to make the spamming of cell phones and email accounts illegal. The law was brought in by George W. Bush to protect U.S. citizens from unwanted marketing messages and pornography. Under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, the penalties for spamming include long jail terms and massive fines.

US District Judge Maurice Cohill Jr. passed sentence in a Philadelphia court earlier, saying the spam campaign orchestrated by Fleitz was “sophisticated and serious,” and lead to millions of spam messages being sent to U.S. citizens. Fleitz, along with two other people involved in the massive spamming campaign, were making between $2,000 and $3000 per week. They were paid for the clicks they were able to generate by sending users to marketing websites.

The marketing websites obtained contact details from visitors, a practice which is legal. What is not legal, and is in violation to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, is using spam marketing to generate traffic to those websites.

Fleitz was the only individual from the trio to receive a jail term as he was the director architect of the scheme. “It was his idea. He was the first to do it,” said US attorney Jimmy Kitchen. In 2015, Fleitz pled guilty to using a secured computer to relay or retransmit multiple commercial electronic mail messages with the intent to deceive or trick recipients, with the sentence only just being passed.

Flietz was arrested as part of an FBI investigation into Darkode, a website used by hackers and cybercriminals to promote market illegal computer skills. The shutting down of the website resulted in 12 individuals being charged for cyber crimes.

The two other people involved in the spam campaign, Naveed Ahmed, 27, wrote the program that enabled the scheme to operate. He was given 2-years’ probation and was sentenced in 2015. Dewayne Watts, wrote the spam messages which were developed to trick users into responding. He received 2-months’ probation, including a period of 6 months of house arrest.

The spamming campaign was conducted using via servers based in China between September 2011 and February 2013. Fleitz hired Ahmed to write a computer program that allowed the spammers to send millions of spam text messages and emails to mobile phones and computers. Ahmed’s program gathered cellphone numbers and matched them up with carriers.  The messages composed by Watts advised the recipients they had won gift cards that could be redeemed by clicking the links contained in the messages.

The financial penalties for spamming under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 can be prohibitory. While Fleitz only received 27 months in jail, he could possibly have been sentenced to a maximum of 60 months of jail time and fined up to $250,000. When deciding the penalties for spamming, judges take previous history into consideration as well as the magnitude of the offences.