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By Reuters

Texas on Thursday sued what is thought to be one of the world’s largest spam e-mail operations, seeking millions of dollars from two men it says are responsible for sending illegal messages on the Internet, the state’s attorney general said.

Attorney General Greg Abbott said Texas filed the civil lawsuit in federal court in Austin against Ryan Samuel Pitylak, a University of Texas student, and Mark Stephen Trotter of California.

The two are suspected of controlling companies–PayPerAction LLC, Leadplex LLC and Leadplex Inc.–that sent millions of spam messages pitching fraudulent services.

Watchdog group has ranked the pair as running one of the top five spam operations in the world.

“Illegal spam must be stopped,” Abbott said at a press conference in Dallas. “Spam is one of the most aggravating and pervasive problems facing consumers today.”

An attorney for the defendants said the suit was groundless and that the pair would defend themselves vigorously.

“Leadplex and PayPerAction are legitimate Internet marketing companies that are in complete compliance with the federal Can-Spam Act,” said Lin Hughes.

That law, which took effect last year, criminalizes tactics that spammers use to spread junk e-mail, such as deceptive subject lines, falsified return addresses and the use of third-party computers to disguise their point of origin.

Abbott said the operation named in the civil suit has violated federal and Texas laws on spam, as well as Texas trade practices. No criminal charges were filed.

The suit charges the operation with using misleading subject lines in e-mail messages and making misrepresentations in the body of the e-mails.

For example, an e-mail might have a subject line telling a recipient of an urgent need concerning their home loan and the body of the note would solicit personal information, which the spammers are suspected of selling to marketing companies for $28 each.

Abbott said Texas worked with Microsoft and others who set up “spam traps”–e-mail accounts established with the intent of collecting spam messages and tracking down the source. The traps set up by Microsoft received 24,000 e-mails from the operation that Abbott charges are illegal messages.

Story Copyright © 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.