MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Federal judge Joan Ericksen has sentenced Paul Hansmeier today to 14 years in prison for fraud.
As XBIZ has extensively reported, Hansmeier, along with Prenda partners John Steele and Paul Duffy, “created a series of fake entities through which they obtained copyrights to pornographic movies, some of which they filmed themselves and then uploaded the films to file sharing websites to lure others to download them.”
The attorneys, according to our previous report “would then file fake copyright infringement lawsuits, concealing their own roles in the distribution of the films. Steele admitted to investigators he and Hansmeier would threaten the individuals involved in the fake lawsuits with financial penalties and public embarrassment if they didn't agree to pay a settlement fee.”
“It is almost incalculable how much your abuse of trust has harmed the administration of justice,” Judge Ericksen said.
After a plea agreement, Hansmeier changed his initial not-guilty plea to guilty last August. Steele pled guilty in March 2018. Duffy died in 2015 from heart- and alcohol-related conditions.
In the 16-page sentencing document she filed Monday, U.S. Attorney MacDonald described Hansmeier as “greedy, arrogant, devious, mendacious and consistently [positioning] other people to be damaged by his conduct, even as he enjoyed the proceeds of the scheme he orchestrated.”
“Paul Hansmeier was the driving force behind this massive scheme,” the government stated with repetitive, harsh rhetoric. “It was Hansmeier who came up with the idea to construct a copyright settlement mill focused on pornographic films. It was Hansmeier who directed his brother to upload clients’ movies onto file-sharing websites to lure downloaders. It was Hansmeier who drafted nearly all of the legal pleadings used to deceive judges. It was Hansmeier who invented phantom hacking allegations. And it was Hansmeier who lied to judges, dissembled in depositions and coerced others to conceal the truth.”
“While John Steele assumed an equal partnership in the settlement mill,” the document continued, “Steele primarily handled the business side of operations — interacting with clients, organizing business entities, collecting payments, producing movies and paying bills. Steele was the brash frontman whose false bravado and half-truths drew the ire of defense attorneys and judges, but witnesses repeatedly identified Hansmeier as the Machiavellian presence behind the scenes directing the creation and dissemination of false statements to courts.”
As part of his plea deal, Hansmeier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering.