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MN lawyer charged with being part of a porn trolling scheme

Two lawyers are accused of threatening people with lawsuits to get money.

Two lawyers accused of using fraudulent porn trolling schemes to extort millions of dollars have been arrested and are facing charges.

On Friday, U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger announced the federal indictment against Paul Hansmeier, 35, and John Steele, 45.

Hansmeier had been a Twin Cities attorney. He was notorious for filing copyright infringement lawsuits against people who download pornography. In September, Hansmeier lost his license after being accused of filing frivolous lawsuits, lying under oath, and failing to pay fees and fines.

According to the Star Tribune, Steele worked as a lawyer in Illinois. He and Hansmeier were classmates at the University of Minnesota.

What'd they do?

The indictment – filed Wednesday – says between 2011 and 2014, the two attorneys came up with an elaborate scheme to nab millions of dollars by threatening copyright lawsuits against people who may have downloaded porn from file-sharing websites.

Documents say the lawyers "used a series of sham entities to obtain copyrights to pornographic movies – some of which they filmed themselves."

From there, they uploaded the videos to file-sharing websites like “The Pirate Bay” to lure people to download the movies.

The conduct of these defendants was outrageous.

Hansmeier and Steele are said to have filed bogus lawsuits to get internet service subscriber information so that the lawyers could identify the people downloading the files. Then the lawyers would call and send letters to those people and threaten them with enormous fees until the victims agreed to pay a settlement of thousands of dollars

The indictment says Hansmeier and Steele even started filing lawsuits falsely claiming computer systems belonging to their sham clients had been hacked. The lawyers' defendants were actually people who had been caught downloading porn. The lawyers convinced their "defendants" to agree to being sued in exchange for some waived fees.

“The conduct of these defendants was outrageous – they used deceptive lawsuits and unsuspecting judges to extort millions from vulnerable defendants," Luger said.

Luger added they stole up to $6 million in these schemes.

Over time, courts started getting suspicious of fraud, and that's how all of this was figured out.

The charges

Hansmeier and Steele both face several charges:
• Conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.
• Conspiracy to commit perjury and suborn perjury.
• Conspiracy to commit money laundering.
• Ten counts of wire fraud.
• Five counts of mail fraud.

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