September 03, 2003 12:00am
Feds Cuff Florida Man in Online Porn Scheme
by: Erin McClam
(NEW YORK, NY) -- Federal agents Wednesday arrested a man they say runs Web sites that exploit misspellings by computer users to direct children looking for Disneyland or the Teletubbies to explicit sex instead.
Officials said it was the first prosecution in the nation under a provision of the new Amber Alert legislation that makes it a crime to use a misleading Web address to draw children to pornography. The provision calls for a prison sentence of up to four years.
John Zuccarini, 53, was arrested at a motel in Hollywood, Fla., where authorities believe he had been living for months.
Zuccarini registered thousands of Internet addresses and was earning up to $1 million per year off them - much of it from sex sites that paid him when he sent Web users their way, U.S. Attorney James Comey said.
The trick: Zuccarini used real, popular Web addresses, but with omitted or transposed letters, officials say. Computer users who misspelled or mistyped a Web address often ended up in a porn site instead.
Zuccarini used the technique to trap Web surfers trying to log on to sites for pop star Britney Spears, Disneyland and Teletubbies children's characters, among others, according to court papers.
Once there, Web users often encountered a maze of pop-up advertising called "mousetrapping," which sends up even more ads when surfers click the "back" button on their browser or try to close the windows altogether.
"Few of us could imagine there was someone out there in cyberspace, essentially reaching out by hand to take children to the seediest corners of the Internet," Comey said.
Zuccarini faced a bail hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. There was no immediate information on an attorney for Zuccarini.
Last year Zuccarini was ordered to stop the scheme after the Federal Trade Commission sued him for registering misspelled variations of sites for the Backstreet Boys, Victoria's Secret and the Wall Street Journal.
And companies whose names were exploited have filed dozens of complaints with regulators and the oversight body that doles out Internet addresses.
The FTC said Zuccarini has lost 53 state and federal lawsuits and has had about 200 Web addresses taken from him.
Federal agents were investigating Zuccarini as early as 1999.
"I am not aware of others who have done it on the scale of Zuccarini," said Marc M. Groman, an attorney in the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Federal Trade Commission: FTC.gov