Judge’s order comes in response to Washington’s first case under the federal anti-spam law
SEATTLE – A California marketing firm today was ordered to pay $3 million in civil penalties and $375,000 restitution to the Seattle School District for sending junk e-mails. Attorney General Rob McKenna today announced the U.S. District Court order against AvTech Direct, which came as a result of Washington’s first lawsuit under the federal anti-spam act.
The Attorney General’s Office sued AvTech Direct last year for allegedly sending unsolicited e-mails targeted toward employees of nonprofit organizations such as schools and hospitals. A judge in U.S. District Court in Seattle today entered an order of default against AvTech after the company failed to obtain legal counsel or respond to the lawsuit.
AvTech was ordered to pay a total of $3 million in civil penalties – $2,000 for each of 1,500 unsolicited commercial e-mails sent to the Seattle School District between May and July 2004. Each deceptive e-mail constituted a violation of the state Consumer Protection Act and the federal anti-spam act.
AvTech was also ordered to pay $375,000 restitution to the Seattle School District and $67,882 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
“The Attorney General’s Office alleges that AvTech Direct blanketed Seattle School District employees with at least 1,500 unsolicited commercial e-mail messages in just two months,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “Not only were the advertisements deceptive, but the company continued to send them to consumers who requested to opt-out of future solicitations.
“This is Washington’s first lawsuit filed under the federal anti-spam act and is a reminder to spammers that deceptive e-mails are not only irritating, but illegal,” McKenna continued. “Violations will be taken very seriously.”
McKenna congratulated members of the Consumer Protection Division’s High-Tech Fraud Unit, including Assistant Attorney Generals Katherine Tassi and Paula Selis and Investigator Mary Beth Haggerty-Shaw for their hard work on the case. McKenna expanded the High-Tech Unit this year in response to increasing high-tech fraud.
AvTech Direct also goes by the names AvTech Computers and Educational Purchasing Services. According to the state’s complaint, the company marketed the sale of desktop computers to consumers in Washington and nationwide since at least 2003 through unsolicited e-mails. The e-mails offered a “limited allotment of brand new, top-of-the-line, name-brand desktop computers at more than 50% MSRP.” The company targeted its e-mails to employees of nonprofit organizations, including the Seattle School District.
The Attorney General’s Office alleged that AvTech altered or concealed header information to make it appear the messages were sent from other sources and used deceptive subject lines such as “Staff Bulletin.” The company also continued to send e-mails to recipients who requested not to receive future solicitations via an “unsubscribe” link or by phone.
The complaint also alleged that AvTech claimed the computers, which were priced at $297, featured “the latest Intel technology” when they did not.
The court order prohibits AvTech from engaging in similar practices in Washington State.
The Attorney General’s Office sued AvTech and MD&I, a California corporation, in October 2004, alleging violations of the federal anti-spam act and Washington’s Consumer Protection Act.
The suit alleged that MD&I and AvTech had a contractual relationship, in which AvTech advertised and marketed computers and MD&I would assemble and ship them to the consumer.
Attorneys who initially represented the companies withdrew from the case. The Attorney General’s Office subsequently filed a motion for an order of default. MD&I obtained new counsel and charges against the company are pending in U.S. District Court.