Prenda Mastermind Gets 14 Years In Prison, Told To Pay Back Just $1.5 Million
from the welcome-to-the-big-leagues dept
The process may have taken forever, but Paul “welcome to the big leagues” Hansmeier, who was the apparent mastermind behind the Prenda copyright trolling scam has finally been sentenced to 14 years in prison, and told to repay $1.5 million to 704 victims of his scam. We’ve been covering the actions of Hansmeier and his partner in crime, John Steele, going back many, many years now. None of us have the time to recount all of the many scams they’ve pulled, but they took copyright trolling to new lows. They tried using Florida’s “pure bill of discovery” rules to try to abuse the system to get names to shakedown based on IP addresses. They sent totally unqualified and unprepared “associates” into courts to try to hide their own involvement in cases, they abused the CFAA by pretending movies they uploaded themselves were “hacked” in an attempt to get around restrictions on copyright trolling, they got someone they threatened to sue to basically take a dive in order to get access to other people to shake down (and then they went after that guy anyway). Oh, and then there was the whole thing about setting up their own fake movie production house, creating their own porn films to upload themselves, and then pretending in court that they were not the owners of the company in questions. And we don’t even have much time to get into the time Steele tried to forge the signature of his housekeeper to pretend he was the actual officer of one of those fake shell companies.
Over and over and over again, Hansmeier and Steele played every possible game with a single focus in mind: getting names of people to send threatening shakedown letters to. And, apparently, they took in about $6 million over the years — though a bunch of civil cases have forced them to cough up plenty of that before the criminal charges came down.
And there is no indication that Hansmeier had any regrets about all of this. Even after his arrest, he (and his wife) engaged in an analogous scheme of ADA trolling, looking for small businesses who might technically violate the ADA, and demanding cash from them to avoid a lawsuit. Hansmeier is facing an investigation over that as well.
Oh, and then there was the whole bankruptcy fraud thing. Seriously, the list goes on and on and on and everytime you think you remember it all, you’re reminded of some other really sketchy thing Hansmeier and Steele did.
So it should probably come as little surprise that the judge in the case was not impressed, and even said he considered giving him even more time in jail:
“It is almost incalculable how much your abuse of trust has harmed the administration of justice,” [Judge Joan] Ericksen said during the sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.
[….] Ericksen said she considered going beyond sentencing guidelines but decided instead to impose the maximum of that range, followed by two years of supervised release. She ordered Hansmeier to pay restitution, calling it a conservative toll for his crimes. While the amount of money is significant, she said, “that’s not even a major part of the harm” he’d done with his scheme.
“The major harm here is what happens when a lawyer acts as a wrecking ball,” Ericksen said.
She did actually sentence him to longer than the DOJ requested, but only said he has to pay back $1.5 million, as that’s the amount they apparently received after they started posting torrent files themselves in order to track down people to shake down.
John Steele’s sentencing is still to come, though, unlike Hansmeier, Steele actually started cooperating much earlier, meaning it’s likely that he’ll get a somewhat shorter sentence.
As I said years ago, Steele and Hansmeier remind me of some people I’ve met over the years who basically seem to think that they can talk their way out of anything, and thus lie and scam with impunity, and when caught, just keep thinking they can talk their way out of that as well. In this case, it finally caught up to them.