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Minneapolis lawyer made millions from sham porn copyright scheme

He and another lawyer would threaten people who downloaded porn movies with lawsuits.

A Minneapolis attorney has admitted his role in a multi-million dollar fraud targeting people who had downloaded pornographic movies.

Paul Hansmeier, 37, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Friday to orchestrating the sham copyright scheme that he used to extort payments from victims.

Along with another lawyer, Hansmeier and John Steele – who has previously pleaded guilty – created a series of sham companies that they controlled to obtain rights to porn movies, some of which they filmed themselves.

They would then upload these movies to illegal file-sharing websites like "The Pirate Bay" to lure people to download them, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Once downloaded, the pair would file a bogus copyright infringement lawsuit that masked their role in distributing the movies, and used the courts to subpoena internet companies to reveal the identities of the people who downloaded the content.

They would then use phone calls and letters to threaten them with potentially huge financial penalties "and public embarrassment" unless they agreed to pay a $3,000 fee.

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Between 2010 and 2014, the pair made approximately $6 million from the scheme.

"Paul Hansmeier’s guilty plea today closes a sad chapter in the career of an attorney who abused his license to practice law and disgraced the bar," said Special Agent in Charge of the Minneapolis Division Jill Sanborn. 

"Hansmeier’s role in a brazen multi-million dollar fraud scheme exploited victims by misusing his position of trust as an officer of the court. The FBI will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to detect crimes such as this and bring the perpetrators to justice."

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