By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Lead generation is big business. Companies nationwide buy lists of people who might be interested in their services. Companies obtain these leads from various sources from carnivals and trade shows (where people provide personal information to be eligible to win prizes) to lists of magazine subscribers. Spam is an increasingly popular way of generating leads. A spammer can blast out millions of e-mails advertising low mortgage rates, and a portion of people who receive the e-mail will follow a link to a website where they provide personal information. The spammer can then sell those "leads" to mortgage companies interested in drumming up new business.
In interviews with New Times, McCalla continues to deny that he sent spam and claims he does not even know how to send out e-mail in bulk. His company, he says, was simply a middle man, selling leads purchased wholesale to individual companies at a markup of about $1 to $2 per lead. McCalla cannot explain where the millions of e-mails linking to his website originated.
"I don't send out e-mail. That wasn't part of the business," McCalla says. "It basically was just buying and selling leads. There was no spamming. I was buying information and selling that information to front-end people. I was buying leads and selling it in small portions to these small companies."
Asked for the names of the companies from which he purchased leads in bulk, McCalla looked down and said, "Let me think." He then claimed he could not recall the name of even one. He also could not explain how he would drive traffic to his website, awayoutofdebtfast.com, if he were not using spam. Pressed about the origin of his website traffic, which would be essential to cultivate leads, McCalla backtracked: "The website was a front. I used it to make people think that's where the leads came from, because I didn't want the companies to know I was just a middle man."
McCalla's waffling doesn't surprise Wallace. "The fact is with all spammers, they know what they're doing is wrong," Wallace says. "They don't have a defense in court. When you follow the bread crumbs and you find the guy and you've nailed him down in records, what's his defense in court? It's either that spam isn't illegal, which they'll lose on, or that you've got the wrong guy."
McCalla's defense is a common one that someone hijacked his e-mail address. An unknown spammer, he says, used firstname.lastname@example.org for e-mail bursts and registered the address as the contact e-mail for at least one spam-related website.
"They had one piece of paper with my e-mail address on it and a reference to a domain, a website, saying that I had bought it," McCalla says. "It's ridiculous. You have no information saying I did any of this. I asked for the information, and there is none. All they have is a whole bunch of e-mails, and they think that I sent them. The only reference they had was a domain that was registered under my e-mail address."
There's a complicating factor in McCalla's defense, however. Another South Florida company implicated in the CIS lawsuit is not only a known spam outfit but a criminal enterprise.
Wallace, the Atlanta attorney, followed a similar crumb trail of subpoenaed information to identify Cash Link Systems, a Hollywood company headed by a man named Alan Levine and formerly known as Ameri P.O.S.
Levine's company operated a scam that bilked 900 investors nationwide out of $15 million. Cash Link sold ATM machines and told investors they could expect profits of $2,000 per month per machine after Cash Link helped them find retail establishments in which to place the ATM machines.
In 2004, the Securities and Exchange Commission shut down Cash Link Systems, claiming in its order that Levine knew he was lying to investors and that the company had netted more than $10 million from the scam in one year. Among the ways Cash Link drove traffic to its website: spam.
On December 17, 2005, Judge Wolle in Iowa placed a $360 million judgment against Cash Link in the CIS case a record at the time. One week later, Levine was sentenced in federal court in Miami to 70 months in prison and ordered to pay $10 million in restitution after pleading guilty to mail fraud.
"There were companies in the lawsuit that were basically spamming companies," McCalla admits. He's sitting at a coffee shop in Pembroke Pines, talking to a reporter in the hopes of, as he says, clearing his name. McCalla is a tall, muscular man with short-cropped hair and a thin goatee that fronts a constant 5 o'clock shadow. He wears a white bracelet around his left wrist. It reads: "Non-violence."
If he's putting on an act to claim that he's a victim and evidence submitted in court and available online suggests that he is acting McCalla has been faithful to the part.
In one letter he submitted to the court, McCalla apologized for being slow in responding. He claimed his means were so few that he lacked even transportation. "I apologize for the delay in responding to your letter. I did not receive the letters... due to the fact that I did not have any means of transportation to my P.O. Box," he wrote.