Mr. Spam Man

Microsoft wants to shut him down. New York's attorney general wants to see him in court. But Scott Richter keeps thinking big.

Richter says CANSPAM puts new burdens on legitimate companies while encouraging rogue spammers to become more devious in order to evade prosecution and fines. It's a fundamental axiom of the business: New laws and filters only seem to bring out more spam and more fraudulent tactics to deliver it.

"We wanted one law we could meet, but this new law is a disaster," Richter says. "Nobody really understands it, and the hard-core underground spammers haven't slowed down at all."

Scott Richter
John Johnston
Scott Richter
Talking trash: Microsoft attorney Brad Smith (left) 
watches as New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer 
vows to delete Scott Richter's profits.
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images
Talking trash: Microsoft attorney Brad Smith (left) watches as New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer vows to delete Scott Richter's profits.


May 9, 2000. What is Scott Richter, soon-to-be president of OptInRealBig, doing in Denver's gritty Lincoln Park neighborhood? Why is he loading 120 cartons of Marlboros, purchased for $1,200 from an undercover cop, into his Lexus SUV? What kind of low-rent, think-small deal is this?

In 2002, following a lengthy investigation by the Denver Police Department's anti-fencing unit, Richter and Bob Nelson, his partner in the Colorado Sports Cafe, were charged with multiple counts of theft by receiving. According to court records, an informant's tip stemming from a stolen Bobcat loader had led undercover officers to the defendants' bar. Over the course of thirteen months, they proceeded to strike deals with Nelson and Richter for a Honda generator, several cases of cigarettes, three laptop computers and other items, all offered to the two men at suspiciously low, low prices.

The indictment implies that all of the goods were represented as stolen and that Richter and Nelson were engaged in a fencing operation, but both men deny this. Nelson says the problem started after he befriended a bar patron, Dave Kechter, who turned out to be a Denver detective.

"The guy comes in and becomes friends with me," Nelson says. "He asks me if I know anybody who wants to buy a generator, and I'm like, 'We need one for the bar here.' He said it wasn't stolen. Everything I purchased was for personal use, not to sell it. It wasn't like we were doing this to become rich."

Richter calls the episode "the most screwed-up story you ever heard in your life" and a clear case of entrapment. He wasn't that involved in the bar's day-to-day operations at the time, he says: "The only thing I was part of was $3,000 worth of cigarettes, bought for our vending machines. I wasn't around a lot of the time, but because I had knowledge of it, I got tied to it."

Richard Mumford, a detective with Denver's anti-fencing unit, conducted three separate cigarette sales with Richter. He says it was "very clear" to Richter that the merchandise he was buying was supposed to be hot.

"I did two really good deals with him, where he showed up in the projects with his Lexus," Mumford recalls. "He was one of the best crooks I know."

Richter and Nelson each pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit theft by receiving and ended up on probation. They have since sold the bar. Richter, who was assessed more than $35,000 in costs and restitution and had to perform community service, says the bust was a "unique situation" that came at a time of great reversals in his life.

"This was three, four years ago," he says. "At the time, I lost a ton in the stock market. I owed almost $600,000. I worked hard with the Internet to come back and pay everything off. I'm not ashamed of what I did. I'm ashamed because I wanted to fight it, and I wish I had."


Things were looking up for Richter last spring. Business was booming, and he'd been invited to be a featured speaker at a Federal Trade Commission "summit" on spam issues in Washington. He was feeling jaunty enough to fire off an e-mail to the nanae newsgroup regulars, addressed to "all my fans."

"I have had many e-mailing me about wanting to take pictures with me while in DC," he wrote. "To answer those who have asked and those who are wondering, I'm actually a normal human being. I will be more than happy to meet any of you for a picture with me as well as listen to your viewpoints on e-mail.

"I'm actually against unethical marketing and can admit mistakes in the past and look forward to a correct and prosperous future.... For those who do not know how to be civil to another human, for whatever personal or emotional problems you suffer from, please talk to the other panelists."

He signed the note, "Yours truly, Snotty."

Around the same time, Richter was also embarking on a potentially lucrative deal with Synergy6, a New York-based e-mail marketer. Synergy6 lured consumers to its Web sites with offers of "free" products -- including doughnuts, earrings and sunglasses -- in order to get them to register for more commercial offers. The company hired OptInRealBig to send out "free stuff" e-mails, paying a bounty for each registration that resulted from the campaign. But Richter's company was also serving as a broker in the deal, hiring yet another company, Texas-based Delta Seven, to send out some of the e-mails.

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