Microsoft's antitrust battle against the US government has taken a ghoulish twist, as Utah confirmed that it is the recipient of a letter writing campaign from lobbyists asking it to "go easy" on the company - with at least two submissions from dead constituents.

Utah is one of the 17 states working with the Department of Justice to punish Microsoft for its monopolistic business practices.

Over 400 letters supporting an easy settlement have landed on the desk of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, two signed by dead Utah citizens, according to state officials.

Repeat "It just became apparent that a lot of the letters we received were the same," said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for Utah's attorney general's office. "It was clear that each individual didn't sit down and write these letters."

After some inquiry, the law enforcement agency discovered that not only were the letters not handwritten, many of them included falsified information - such as names of dead residents, and one from a resident of Tuscon, Utah, a city that doesn't exist. Other attorneys general involved in the case have also received suspect letters, Murphy said.

Microsoft's spin on this was most unusual: "I think that it's obvious that our competitors have waged a political campaign against Microsoft for a long time now," said Jim Desler, a Microsoft legal spokesman. He added: "It's hardly a surprise that organizations and companies would mobilize and counter those efforts."

Murphy said the Utah attorney general's office has not been in contact with the lobbying groups behind the letter-writing campaign, or with Microsoft. He also said the state was not looking to take any action against phoney letter-writers. "It's more humorous than anything else," he said.