The $11 Billion Man

Meet the world's most castigated spammer — a South Florida man who says he's an innocent victim.

That's at odds with what Wallace claims. The attorney says he has bank records — which he would not share with New Times and which were never submitted to the court — that McCalla raked in $250,000 in one quarter from one client alone. "He was getting five figures, low six figures a month," Wallace alleges.

Spammers are notorious for hiding assets, typified by the gold bullion that was among the spammer booty given away in AOL's sweepstakes last year.

Although McCalla bristles at the claim of his hidden wealth — "$250,000, I'd certainly like to have that," he says — Wolle agreed with Wallace that McCalla had sent about 280 million spam e-mails to CIS. Laws in Iowa allow civil spam judgments against spammers to be calculated at $10 per e-mail, plus punitive damages.

The judgment against McCalla: $11.2 billion.

McWilliams, the technology journalist who authored Spam Kings, became immediately intrigued by the record-setting judgment against McCalla. The reason was simple: "I'd never heard of the guy," he says.

"With an $11.2 billion judgment, I thought surely this guy would be big enough to make it on the ROKSO list," McWilliams explains. "That's the top 200 spammers. You could be an annoying loudmouth and get on the ROKSO list. This guy didn't even rise to that level. He had the misfortune of being sloppy and nailing an ISP that was savvy with spam laws."

In a short entry on his blog about spammers, McWilliams concluded that McCalla was "nothing but a chicken-boner" — a derogatory term for lower-level spammers that implies that they sit around and chew chicken bones in front of computer screens as their machines spew out e-mail after unwanted e-mail.

And McCalla's troubles haven't ended with the $11.2 billion judgment. He currently has a case pending against him in Atlanta. Representing EarthLink, Wallace's firm alleges that McCalla sent to EarthLink's servers spam that tried to collect mortgage and home refinancing leads. "James McCalla is without a doubt a spammer," Wallace alleges. Wallace says he has retained private investigators in South Florida to track down McCalla's purportedly hidden assets.

Even if McCalla is hiding his spammer loot, Wallace will have a difficult time collecting. With the AOL cases being high-profile exceptions, most spammers never pay a dime toward civil judgments.

"These huge judgments do seem to be mostly symbolic," McWilliams says. "Collecting money from spammers has proven much more difficult than catching them."

Besides, there's always personal bankruptcy.

For his part, McCalla says he's taking one day at a time. He's going to clear his name, he says. He just needs to find a lawyer willing to take his case. And for now, he's trusting in his Christian faith.

"I do my best not to think about the whole thing," McCalla says. "That way, I don't get down as much. But most of my family and friends know about the judgment. Every once in a while, they'll call me and say, 'Hey, James, we're praying for you. This is something that's happening in your life, and it's going to pass. It's a lesson, something that the Lord is trying to teach you for farther down the road.' But it's hard. How would you feel if you had an $11 billion judgment against you? One thing I'm afraid of is, let's say I do start making some money and one day I wake up and my bank account is frozen. Somebody has a judgment against me, and they can get money out of me whenever they want.

"This has caused a lot of negative publicity for me," he continues. "It has defamed my name. Because of them, when you looked up my name on the Internet, I'm the biggest spammer in the world based on this court case. I hate to even see what my name looks like on the Internet now."

But for McCalla, life must go on. He has changed careers and seems to have a knack for being the middle man. He has joined the ranks of a profession only marginally more respected than spamming.

McCalla is now a real estate agent.

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