MN lawyer charged with being part of a porn trolling scheme

Two lawyers are accused of threatening people with lawsuits to get money.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

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.

Next Up

D'Angelo Russell / Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves need more from D'Angelo Russell

The Wolves haven't gotten what they expected since making a blockbuster trade.

oct. 20 snow crash

Spinouts, crashes still happening after snow leaves MN roads a mess

The snow storm caused at least 208 crashes this weekend.

1024px-Crock_pot

For The Week: Food tips and tricks to get you through the next 7 days

BMTN's food writer Lindsay Guentzel makes life easier for Minnesotans.

snow, plow

Here's how much snow fell in Saturday's storm in Minnesota

MSP Airport had the highest total as of 7 a.m. Sunday with 5.3 inches.

Screen Shot 2021-01-18 at 3.17.49 PM

No KAT? No D'Lo? No problem as Timberwolves defeat Pelicans

The Timberwolves were without Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, but still picked up a (SCORE) win.

Screen Shot 2021-01-23 at 7.53.44 PM

Spinouts, crashes across Twin Cities as snow gets heavier

There have been multiple incidents across the metro area.

Mason Branstrator

Family, friends raising funds for teen soccer standout with spinal injury

Mason Branstrator of Duluth was injured in a skiing accident.

Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 9.08.16 PM

Tributes pour in after MN Supreme Court justice's daughter found dead

Olivia Chutich died near the campus of Iowa State University.

Image from iOS (96)

Early Saturday fire damages Burger King in Richfield

The fire was reported around 1:15 a.m. Saturday.

Jamal Mashburn Jr. / Gopher Basketball

Maryland hands Gophers first home loss of season

The 17th-ranked Gophers fell to the Terrapins 63-49 on Saturday afternoon.

Related

Minneapolis lawyer made millions from sham porn copyright scheme

He threatened people who downloaded porn movies with lawsuits.

Target has to pay $18.5M over that massive data breach

In 2013, hackers got into Target's system and stole info from millions of card users.

Charges: After loud argument, car mechanic found killed in his garage

Witnesses said they heard people arguing loudly inside mechanic's garage.

Mpls. cop fired over pushing a woman will get his job back

There are some mixed feelings about his return.

Man who shot law clerk dead in St. Paul gets life without parole

A man will spend the rest of his life in prison for fatally shot a St. Paul law clerk after he couldn't get a hold of his lawyer.

Charges: Former Chanhassen principal had 127 child porn videos and photos

The 44-year-old is facing 10 more felony counts of having child porn.