Russian spammer brought before U.S. court

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Russian Oleg Nikolaenko on Friday, December 3, appeared in court in Milwaukee, Wis., on charges of creating the largest spam network.
A 23-year-old Russian man charged with operating one of the world’s largest spam e-mail generators was ordered held without bond Friday at a hearing in federal court in Milwaukee.

Oleg Nikolaenko is charged with violating the CAN-SPAM Act by sending voluminous e-mails with altered header information. He appeared at Friday’s arraignment wearing orange jail clothing, with his arms and legs chained. He communicated during the hearing through a Russian translator.

His attorney, Christopher Van Wagner, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Erica O’Neil had asked that Nikolaenko be detained because he has no ties to the United States and would be at risk to return to Russia. He was arrested last month during a visit to Las Vegas.

Van Wagner noted that even if convicted and sentenced to the maximum term, Nikolaenko would face only three years in prison, not an undoable stretch for someone his age. Nikolaenko has no known criminal record and was cooperative when authorities arrested him in Las Vegas, where he was attending an automotive specialties convention.

O’Neil said Nikolaenko had $4,000 with him, an amount Van Wagner characterized as not unusual for someone visiting Las Vegas. He declined to discuss more of his client’s background or what he was doing in the United States.

Van Wagner said his client’s wife is attempting to get a visa to come and be present throughout the case, and suggested restrictions and conditions could be arranged to allow Nikolaenko to live under house arrest in Milwaukee if the complex case takes months to prosecute.

U.S. Magistrate Patricia Gorence said that if Van Wagner can arrange such details, he could seek his client’s release again later, but that for now she would order him detained as a flight risk.

According to court records, Nikolaenko controlled a network of more than 500,000 infected computers worldwide, a so-called botnet that Internet security experts dubbed Mega-D and said was capable of sending 10 billion unwanted e-mails a day. Cyber hucksters pitching everything from counterfeit Rolex watches to nonapproved herbal remedies and fake Viagra would pay Nikolaenko to send out spam pushing the products.

A team of FBI and Federal Trade Commission agents, with the help of private Internet security experts, tracked down Nikolaenko last year and crippled Mega-D.

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