One of the world's biggest spammers has escaped a legal clampdown by agreeing to pay just $50,000 in damages - a universe away from the $20 million originally sought

The blitz-turned-wrist-slap came as New York's attorney general Eliot Spitzer announced the state had settled with Scott Richter and his company, OptInRealBig.com. Aided by Microsoft, Spitzer filed suit in December against Richter. Using evidence gathered through Hotmail service, Richter was charged with sending as many as 250 million e-mail messages each day, many containing fraudulent statements such as faked sender identifications and transmission paths. Spitzer sought up to $20 million in fines.

Spitzer said at the time that his goal was to "change the economics of spam" and bankrupt Richter, whom he cited as one of the world's most prolific senders of unsolicited commercial e-mails. But Richter said the settlement deal negotiated with Spitzer's office won't change his business practices at all, which he contends were always legal. Richter declined to comment on the volume of e-mail sent daily by his company, but said that all of its messages abide by regulations such as the CAN-SPAM Act.

Richter distanced himself from the shady e-mails at issue in the lawsuit, which he characterised as originating from other businesses contracting with OptInRealBig.com. "We were already following some very strict business practices," he said in an interview. "We're very pleased that we were able to reach a settlement."

Spitzer's office is continuing its case against the other defendants charged, which include New York-based marketer Synergy 6 and Texas-based Delta Seven Communications. Those companies and Richter remain defendants in a Washington state lawsuit filed by Microsoft.

Richter, who cheerfully lays claim to the "Spam King" title, said his lawyers are "working around the clock" to settle the Microsoft case. Microsoft representative Aaron Kornblum, an attorney with the company's Internet safety enforcement group, said Microsoft favours Spitzer's settlement even as it continues to "aggressively pursue" its own case against Richter.

"Microsoft supports the New York attorney general's settlement as it contains strong requirements designed to prevent illegal spamming as well as provisions to help ensure Richter's and his company's future compliance with the law," Kornblum said.

Earlier this month, Microsoft had another anti-spam success, getting a $4 million judgement against Daniel Khoshnood for trademark infringement, false advertising and cybersquatting.