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Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Porn Scheme That Made $3M

Prosecutors alleged Paul Hansmeier, colleague made porn in order to snare downloaders
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2018 2:32 PM CDT
Who knew porn-trolling was a thing?   (Getty Images/stevanovicigor)

(Newser) – It apparently started out above-board, at least according to court documents. Paul Hansmeier and John Steele of what Ars Technica calls "legitimate if aggressive copyright law firm" Prenda Law found their niche around 2010: The men repped clients who held the copyrights to porn flicks and went after internet users who downloaded those films or attempted to do so. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the lawyers would file copyright infringement suits and push the downloaders to settle for $3,000 or face embarrassing and expensive litigation. But Ars Technica reports rumors of nefarious doings bubbled up in June 2013, when the legal team of a man being sued by Prenda suggested the "sharkmp4" user who uploaded a film in question to the Pirate Bay might be Steele. The truth ended up being something much more extreme.

Hansmeier and Steele had become porn producers themselves in order to get their hands on more source material, with Steele's March 2017 plea deal stating the men produced at least 9 films in Chicago, Miami, and Las Vegas (including Great Teen Sex, Worst Plot Ever) to facilitate the scheme, which is said to have brought in $3 million. The films were never publicly released, but only used as Pirate Bay fodder. Now Hansmeier himself has taken a plea, pleading guilty on Friday to wire fraud and money laundering charges. The now-disbarred Minneapolis lawyer will have to make full restitution, and faces a sentence of up to 150 months in prison. His plea deal doesn't interfere with his appeal of a motion to dismiss the case; if that's successful, he can withdraw his plea. (Read about another lawyer misdeed.)

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