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AOL employee gets 15 months in prison

Have you ever wondered how pornographers and sexual chat groups manage to Instant Message you with an invitation to click over to one of their sites?

You can thank Jason Smathers.

The 25-year-old former AOL employee managed to steal 92 million AOL screen names and sell them to a “spammer,” according to authorities.

Yesterday, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty in February to charges including conspiracy and interstate trafficking of stolen property.

He was paid $28,000 by an Internet marketer for the names, which were taken from AOL’s database of 30 million subscribers at the time. AOL subscribers can have multiple screen names for each account.

Smathers cooperated with prosecutors and appeared sorrowful in court yesterday, surrounded by family members. He faced up to 24 months in prison under federal guidelines.

“I know I have done something very wrong,” he told U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein.

Prosecutors said AOL suffered an estimated loss of $300,000 from employee time spent dealing with the issue, as well as hardware and software expenses.

Hellerstein said that while AOL’s loss estimate was hard to prove, the offense was still serious.

“People use e-mail as a primary measure of communication these days,” he said. “Companies need to preserve the integrity of the information they have.”

In stealing the e-mail names of AOL customers, Smathers created “the sale of a line of products customers had no need for,” the judge said.

In a letter to the judge, Smathers pleaded for leniency. He described himself as “an outlaw” in the “new frontier” of cyberspace.