But before leaving his office, he decided to check his e-mail one last time. To his surprise, he found hundreds of bounced-back messages flooding his inbox. And that wasn't all. Between those e-mails were messages from individual Internet users who were irate that Markley had apparently sent junk e-mail advertising an online store selling prescription drugs. "Shop Online and Save," the message read. "Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Viagra, Meridia, Xenical, Valtrex."
Markley knew he hadn't sent the e-mail ad. But the incensed recipients of the pitch message insisted he had, because the from address in the drug pitch -- "art101.com" -- used a random username from Markley's own domain. Angered that he had become a victim of online identity theft, the graphic designer decided to do some detective work. All e-mails contain what are called "headers," which act as a sort of signature that a computer sending out e-mail places on messages as they're sent. While "from" addresses can be forged, as was the case with the junk e-mail Markley was receiving in bounced-back messages, the originating mail server's Internet protocol (IP) address generally cannot be.
The IP address on Markley's e-mails traced back to a Boca Raton company called Internet America LLC. According to the Spamhaus Project, a London-based organization considered the leading authority on junk e-mail and its senders, Internet America is among the companies allegedly linked to Eddy Marin, a 41-year-old Cuban-born South Floridian believed to pump out 250 million e-mails per day. Marin, who is not listed on state records for Internet America LLC, has a criminal past that illustrates the shady underbelly of unsolicited commercial e-mail, better known as spam. It's an intrusive but lucrative industry that Congress moved toward curbing with last week's passage of the Can Spam Act. The bill, which had already passed the House, was approved unanimously by the Senate on November 25. The House will vote to make some minor modifications in the bill's language before sending it on to President Bush, who is expected to sign it later this month. The new law, which awaits executive approval, includes penalties of up to five years in prison for the worst spam offenses. For most Internet users, the law can't come soon enough. According to an October study by the Pew Internet & Life Project, 70 percent of surveyed Internet users said spam has made their online experience unpleasant or annoying.
That's thanks partly to Boca Raton's Marin, whose junk e-mail advertises, among other things, sexual remedies and mail-order brides. He is one of about 40 spammers in Boca Raton who, according to Spamhaus, have helped to bestow the Palm Beach County city with a reputation as the Spam Capital of the World. "Florida is a well-known haven for spammers," says junk e-mail fighter Adam Brower.
Before Marin could make his money in Boca's junk e-mail industry, however, he relied on another lucrative enterprise: cocaine. His first bust dates back to December 6, 1983, when Broward Sheriff's Deputy Joe Kessling observed Marin change traffic lanes without signaling. The deputy pulled him over. "When the defendant exited the vehicle," Kessling wrote in his report, "I observed in plain sight in the defendant's right front change pocket, partially sticking out, a small clear plastic packet containing a white powder substance." Marin was charged with cocaine possession. In all, he was carrying three grams. On May 11, 1984, Judge Darryl J. Stone sentenced him to 18 months' probation.
The cocaine was obviously something more than a personal habit. On August 28, 1984, BSO attempted to pull over Marin's 1984 black Corvette. As soon the deputy set his patrol lights ablaze, a passenger in the Corvette threw out of the driver's-side window "a clear plastic baggie containing a substance that appeared white in color," according to the police report. The Corvette then accelerated for two blocks at a high rate of speed before stopping. Deputies recovered the discarded bag, which was filled with smaller bags of cocaine. In all, Marin had 132 grams of white gold.
While serving eight months in prison, Marin had time to perfect his business plan. In 1985, he expanded his cocaine operation from one-ounce packages to half-kilo and kilo quantities, according to a 1991 federal indictment that alleged Marin was part of a drug ring that purchased cocaine in Miami and resold it in Broward and Palm Beach counties, Jacksonville, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Alabama, and Canada. Marin then invested the drug proceeds in seemingly legitimate businesses, including A-1 Limousine Service and G-Willikers Night Club, the indictment alleged. Marin pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute five kilos or more of cocaine and received 57 months in prison, plus five years of probation.