Lawyer Gets 14 Years in Prison for Extorting Millions From Porn Pirates

By Bryan Menegus on at

So ends one of the strangest piracy cases of the past few years, with lawyer turned lawbreaker Paul Hansmeier catching a whopping 168-month sentence for his role in a bizarre extortion scheme targeting internet users who downloaded porn.

To refresh your memory almost three years after the indictments were first made, Hansmeier and another lawyer, John L. Steele, were accused of masterminding a plan to extort “settlement fees” from their victims. First, the pair obtained rights to—and in some cases, produced—pornographic material through shell companies, which they then uploaded to file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay. Once the videos were illegally downloaded, Steele and Hansmeier would use copyright violation lawsuits to discover the identities of their victims from their internet service providers. Then, acting as Prenda Law, they’d pressure their marks to settle the honeypot infringements out of court, or risk having their names publicly associated with porn (and the piracy thereof).

At $3,000 (£2,370) a pop, investigators determined that Prenda Law racked up around $6 million (£4.74 million) in settlements between 2011 and 2014. Ultimately, the duo admitted to collecting $3 million (£2.4 million) through their lawsuits.

US District Judge Joan Ericksen, who sentenced Hansmeier on Friday, told him it’s “almost incalculable how much your abuse of trust has harmed the administration of justice,” according to the Star Tribune. Federal agents involved in the case were also quick to condemn Hansmeier’s actions in a press release from the US Department of Justice. In addition to scamming hundreds of victims, prosecutors said Hansmeier tried to have evidence destroyed and repeatedly lied to judges, the Star Tribute reports.

Last year, Hansmeier pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He is now commanded to pay restitution of approximately $1.5 million (£1.2 million). His co-defendant John Steele, who pleaded guilty to the same charges in 2017, is expected to be sentenced next month.

Featured image: Damian Dovarganes (AP)