Saturday, April 08, 2017

Lawyer Cops Guilty Plea For Allegedly Running Shakedown Racket w/ Another Attorney, Using Bogus Copyright Lawsuits To Squeeze Over $6 Million Under Threat Of High Financial Penalties, Public Embarrassment From Internet Users Who Supposedly Downloaded Pornographic Movies From File-Sharing Websites

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • An Illinois attorney pleaded guilty today [March 6] for his role in a multi-million dollar scheme to fraudulently obtain payments to settle sham copyright infringement lawsuits by lying to state and federal courts throughout the country.
    John L. Steele, 45, currently residing in Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering [...].

    According to Steele’s admissions in the plea, between 2011 and 2014, Steele and co-defendant Paul Hansmeier, both practicing lawyers, 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.

    Steele admitted that he and Hansmeier created a series of sham entities to obtain copyrights to pornographic movies – some of which they filmed themselves – and then uploaded those movies to file-sharing websites like “The Pirate Bay” in order to lure people to download the movies. Steele and Hansmeier then filed bogus copyright infringement lawsuits that concealed their role in distributing the movies, as well as their personal stake in the outcome of the litigation. After fraudulently inducing courts into giving him and co-defendants the power to subpoena Internet service providers and thereby identify the subscriber who controlled the IP address used to download the movie, Steele and Hansmeier used extortionate tactics such as letters and phone calls to threaten victims with enormous financial penalties and public embarrassment unless they agreed to pay a $3,000 settlement fee.
    Paul R. Hansmeier, of St. Paul, Minnesota, was charged as a co-defendant in an indictment filed on Dec. 16, 2016. The charges contained in the indictment against him are merely accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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