"I know I've done something very wrong," a soft-spoken and teary eyed Jason Smathers told U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein.
The judge credited the 25-year-old former Harpers Ferry, W. Va., resident for his contrition and efforts to help the government before he pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. A plea deal had called for a sentence of at least a year and a half in prison.
In a letter from Smathers to the court that was read partially into the record by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Siegal, Smathers tried to explain the crimes that AOL has said cost the company at least $400,000 and possibly millions of dollars.
"Cyberspace is a new and strange place," Siegal said Smathers wrote. "I was good at navigating in that frontier and I became an outlaw."
As the judge indicated he would be lenient toward Smathers, Siegal told Hellerstein that the public needs to learn from the case that the "Internet is not lawless."
"The public at large has an interest in making sure people respect the same values that apply in everyday life, on the Internet," Siegal said.
The judge imposed the reduced sentence of one year and three months, saying he recognized that Smathers cooperated fully with the government but did not have the kind of information that would have helped to build other criminal cases.
He said leniency was appropriate for "someone who tries hard to bare his soul but doesn't have the information the government needs."