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June 07, 2017

Last Prenda Attorney Will Be Prosecuted, Feds Say

MINNEAPOLIS, MN—Now that Prenda Law principal John L. Steele has pled guilty to malpractice and is headed for federal prison (if he's not there already), there's only one more "loose end" to tie up—the prosecution of Steele's law partner, Paul Hansmeier, for the same crime: creating websites with hardcore adult material and then extorting porn fans who downloaded it (or sometimes just visited the sites) with threats of prosecution for downloading the supposedly copyrighted material unless they paid an average of $3,000 to make the "case" go away, and thereby avoid the threatened publicity of being outed as someone who watches/downloads adult material. But Hansmeier won't be going easily. In March, he filed a 64-page Motion to Dismiss the indictment against him, which charges that he and his partners engaged in conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to suborn perjury in federal court. In the Motion, Hansmeier claimed that the indictment was essentially an attempt to silence him and infringe on his right to file "constitutionally protected" civil suits, despite the fact that multiple federal judges in multiple jurisdictions have described such lawsuits as "a fraud upon the court" or words to that effect. And last Friday, the government pushed back, urging the court to dismiss Hansmeier's Motion, arguing that whatever rights Hansmeier may have to file lawsuits in general, he has no right to file "phony cases." "There is no safe harbor for fraud simply because one of the tools of the fraud involved litigation," wrote acting U.S. Attorney Gregory G. Brooker in his brief arguing for the dismissal of Hansmeier's Motion. "Hansmeier and his co-defendant, John Steele, did not simply file dubious lawsuits; they constructed an elaborate ruse designed to deceive people—state and federal judges as well as numerous victims who paid settlement fees to them. "He did not merely breach his ethical obligations to the court," Brooker later added. "He did not solely mislead the court about the nature of his copyright infringement claims, or conceal his surreptitious ownership of his clients and their pornographic content." And besides the evidence, Hansmeier will face an additional obstacle: As part of his plea deal, his former partner Steele will be required to testify during Hansmeier's trial as to the details of their scheme—and failure to tell the truth would violate Steele's deal, opening him to even more years in prison. No date has yet been set for the Hansmeier trial.

 
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