Appeals court: Stiff prison sentence in Acxiom data theft case stands

Snipermail owner Scott Levine was sentenced to eight years in prison

A Florida businessman convicted of stealing more than 1 billion data records containing personal information from Acxiom Corp. deserved the eight-year prison term he got last year, a federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled this week.

Scott Levine was the owner of Boca Raton-based Snipermail Inc., a company that distributed Internet advertisements to e-mail addresses. During the course of the company's work, it secured a subcontract from a customer that allowed Snipermail access to Acxiom's databases. Levine and some associates abused this access to steal more than a billion records from Acxiom between January 2003 and July 2003.

According to court documents, Levine used sophisticated decryption software to illegally obtain Acxiom passwords and grant himself broad access to Acxiom databases. Levine and his associates later tried to destroy the evidence from their company hard drives when Acxiom noticed the illegal downloads and initiated a criminal investigation. A jury in Little Rock, Ark., found Levine guilty of 120 counts of unauthorized access of a protected computer, two counts of access device fraud and one count of obstruction of justice in August 2005.

He was sentenced to 96 months in prison last August.

Levine appealed the sentence, claiming that evidence of prior legal problems he had with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and records showing his "lavish personal expenditures" should not have been admitted. He also claimed that there was insufficient evidence to show that he had aided and abetted unauthorized access to Acxiom's computers.

In upholding the sentence, the federal appeals court noted that information regarding Levine's lifestyle was needed to establish a motive for his actions. Similarly, the court rejected Levine's claims of insufficient evidence regarding his direct involvement in the illegal access.

"Employees of Snipermail testified that Levine was instructed on how to use a password to access the Acxiom server, that he had the master password file for Acxiom and that he received assistance in decoding encrypted passwords on that file," the court wrote in its decision. "The jury also heard evidence regarding the financial struggles of Snipermail, giving Levine a motive to commit the charged conduct."

The court added that the jury that found Levine guilty also had heard evidence from a Snipermail employee who admitted to using his computer to download Acxiom data and that Levine had often used that computer.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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