WASHINGTON – U.S. authorities charged four people in Detroit (search) on Wednesday with e-mailing fraudulent sales pitches for weight-loss products, the first criminal prosecutions under the government's new "can spam" legislation (search).
Court papers identified the four as Daniel J. Lin, James J. Lin, Mark M. Sadek and Christopher Chung, all believed living in suburban Detroit. They were accused of disguising their identities in hundreds of thousands of sales pitches and delivering e-mails by bouncing messages through unprotected relay computers on the Internet.
Chung and Sadek appeared in U.S. District Court and were released on unsecured bonds, said Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. The Lins have not been arrested.
Sadek's lawyer, James L. Feinberg, said U.S. agents arrived at Sadek's home early Wednesday "out of the clear blue" and arrested him.
"He was absolutely shocked," Feinberg said. He said Sadek will plead innocent to the criminal charges, which have not yet been challenged in court.
"No one's done this before," Feinberg said. "It will be fun — not for my client but for me professionally."
The Lins and Chung could not be located at any of the addresses or telephone numbers listed in the court documents.
Authorities said their company sold a weight-loss patch under the corporate names AIT Herbal, Avatar Nutrition, Phoenix Avatar and others. The company allegedly operated out of Detroit and nearby communities of West Bloomfield and Birmingham.
"These people were sending spam e-mails to at least a million people," Balaya said.
Officials at the Federal Trade Commission (search), who planned to announce the arrests in Washington on Thursday, told U.S. postal investigators they had received more than 10,000 complaints about unwanted e-mails sent by the company. The U.S. attorney in Detroit, Jeffrey Collins, was expected at Thursday's announcement.
Investigators said they consulted Dr. Michael D. Jensen, a medical professor at the Mayo Medical School, who confirmed that ingredients in the weight-loss product sold in the disputed e-mails wouldn't work.
The "can spam" legislation, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires unsolicited e-mails to include a mechanism so recipients can indicate they do not want future mass mailings.