2 attorneys indicted on fraud counts in porn copyright plot

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2016 7:14 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two attorneys face federal fraud charges after authorities say they used copyright lawsuits to extort money from hundreds who allegedly downloaded pornographic movies, prosecutors announced Friday.

Paul Hansmeier, of Woodbury, was arrested Friday in Minnesota, and John Steele, a Chicago attorney, was arrested in Florida. Federal prosecutors said the pair used sham entities to purchase copyrights to pornographic movies, then sued people who allegedly downloaded the movies — collecting about $6 million in settlements from 2011 through 2014.

Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said the men's conduct was outrageous and cast doubt on the integrity of the legal profession. The men were charged Wednesday in an 18-count indictment that was unsealed Friday.

Neither man had an attorney officially listed in the court docket. A phone call to a number listed for Hansmeier went unanswered and no message could be left. A number for Steele was not immediately available Friday.

Hansmeier has been suspended from practicing law in Minnesota.

According to the indictment, the men used several sham entities to obtain copyrights to pornographic movies — including some they filmed themselves — then uploaded those movies to file-sharing websites to lure others to download them.

When the movies were allegedly downloaded, the men filed bogus copyright-infringement lawsuits, then extorted the supposed downloaders and threatened them with huge financial penalties and public exposure unless they agreed to a settlement.

Judges nationwide have criticized the two men for their copyright-infringement lawsuits.