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April 05, 2019

Prosecutors to Judge: Hansmeier Deserves 12 Years for Porn Fraud

MINNEAPOLIS—It's been exactly six years and one day since AVN first began reporting on the crimes committed by the Prenda Law Group, whose principals were John Steele and Paul Hansmeier, a pair whose photos should probably appear next to any dictionary definition of "copyright troll." For several years, Steele, Hansmeier and a couple of other attorney partners had a great scheme going: Hansmeier would arrange for the filming of hardcore content, but it was never distributed commercially. Instead, Hansmeier and his worker bees would post the material online and just wait for unwary porn fans to download it from BitTorrent sites onto their computers. Then, having tracked those hundreds of downloaders on the 'net (thanks to phony subpoenas for their info), Hansmeier would swoop in, boilerplate lawsuits in hand, and demand often upwards of $3,000 each from the unwary downloaders in order to make the lawsuits go away. The pair pursued these phony lawsuits in several states, including California, where Prenda and its principals were sanctioned by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II to the tune of $81,319.72, with the judge comparing Prenda to a RICO enterprise, accusing the attorneys of "moral terpitude," and suggesting that the firm be reported to the IRS and their respective state bar associations. (Hansmeier and Steele didn't take that lying down and flatly refused to pay the fines, appealing them up to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—where they lost.) Fast-forward three years to December 2016, when Hansmeier and Steele were indicted on 18 counts of fraud, perjury, money laundering and extortion, with Steele pleading guilty three months later to having "executed a scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $6 million by threatening copyright lawsuits against individuals who supposedly downloaded pornographic movies from file-sharing websites," according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release. Hansmeier, however, held out a bit longer, though he too finally pled guilty in August 2018—though he reserved the right to appeal the court's failure to dismiss charges against him earlier—and he's just now coming up for sentencing—and the Justice Department had a few choice words to tell the judge about the case. In fact, the DOJ had 16 pages of choice words, early on describing Hansmeier as "the driving force behind this massive scheme." In Section III of the DOJ's sentencing memorandum, titled "The Appropriate Sengtence in Light of 18 U.S.C. §3553(a)" ("facgtors to be considered in imposing a sentence"), the U.S. Attorneys begin by noting that "Hansmeier's sccheme caused widespread damage throughout the United States." They go on to note that Hansmeier had targeted not only actual downloaders but sometimes people who had simply visited his porn websites; that his scheme "wasted judicial resources throughout the United States"; "damaged the people Hansmeier used to commit this crime for him" (referring to other Prenda Law associates and hirees); and labeled Hansmeier as "greedy, arrogant, devious, mendacious, and consistently positioned other people to be damaged by his conduct, even as he enjoyed the proceeds of the scheme he orchestrated." The U.S. Attorneys' final recommendation: 150 months (12-and-a-half years) imprisonment, the maximum the sentencing guidelines allow—but they made it clear elsewhere that they'd have recommended a lot longer if they hadn't entered into a pre-sentence agreement not to. What's to be said but, "Bye-bye, Paul; you gave adult entertainment copyrights a bad name, and you deserve every day of your sentence."

 
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