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Minnesota attorney sentenced to prison for multi-million dollar pornography film fraud scheme

Minnesota attorney sentenced to prison for multi-million dollar pornography film fraud scheme Photo: U.S. Attorney's Office

July 09, 2019 02:43 PM

A Minnesota attorney was sentenced Friday for orchestrating a multi-million dollar fraud scheme, federal prosecutors said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Paul R. Hansmeier, 37, of Woodbury, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for the scheme, which tried to obtain payments from extortion victims to settle sham copyright infringement lawsuits by lying to state and federal courts throughout the country. His co-defendant, John L Steele, also pleaded guilty.

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According to court documents and Hansmeier's guilty plea, between 2011 and 2014, Hansmeier and Steele, both practicing lawyers, executed the scheme to obtain millions of dollars by threatening copyright lawsuits against individuals who allegedly downloaded pornographic movies from film-sharing websites.

The release from the attorney's office said the two created a series of sham entities, obtained copyrights to pornographic movies - some of which they filmed - and then uploaded them to file sharing websites to lure people to download the videos, and then filed bogus copyright infringement lawsuits that concealed their role in distributing the movies and their personal stake in the outcome of the litigation. After filing the lawsuits, Hansmeier and Steele gained authority from courts to subpoena internet service providers for identification information of the subscriber who controlled the IP address used to download the movie, and then used the information to extort the victims, threatening them unless they agreed to pay a $3,000 settlement fee.

In total, the two obtained about $3 million from the fraudulent copyright lawsuits.

Hansmeier was also ordered to serve two years of supervised release and pay $1,541,527.37 in restitution.

Steele also was ordered to to serve two years of supervised release and pay $1,541,527.37 in restitution, on top of his five-year prison sentence.

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