December 9, 1999 1:40 PM PST

Smith pleads guilty to Melissa virus charges

The New Jersey programmer accused of creating and disseminating Melissa, the virus that plagued email systems around the world, pleaded guilty today in state court.

As expected, in a bargain with New Jersey prosecutors, David Smith, 31, pleaded guilty to one charge of computer theft in Monmouth County Superior Court. He is expected to plead guilty to related charges in federal court in Newark later today.

Smith acknowledged that the Melissa program caused more than $80 million in damage. The $80 million total is related to the time spent by systems administrators to clear the virus off affected computers.

Based on the agreement with Smith's attorneys, New Jersey prosecutors today recommended a sentence of 10 years in prison for Smith, the maximum of what the law calls for in such crimes. He also faces a fine of $150,000.

On April 1, Smith was arrested by federal and state officials and charged with creating and disseminating the Melissa virus that began spreading across the Internet on March 26.

Smith, a resident of Aberdeen Township, N.J., was arrested at the home of his brother in Eatontown, N.J. Smith was tracked down with the help of America Online and by traced phone calls.

Smith is considered to be one of the first people ever prosecuted for spreading a computer virus.

"I did not expect or anticipate the amount of damage that took place…I had no idea there would be such profound consequences to others," Smith said in court today, according to Reuters.

In August, Smith admitted to writing the Melissa macro virus, illegally accessing America Online for the purpose of posting the virus onto the Internet and destroying the personal computer he used to post the virus. The FBI assisted New Jersey prosecutors in the case.

In April, Smith initially pleaded not guilty to charges of interrupting public communication, conspiracy to commit the offense, and attempt to commit the offense.

Federal attorneys are expected to hold a press conference later today regarding the case, according to a representative.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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