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.

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Companies: prenda, prenda law

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Comments on “Prenda Mastermind Gets 14 Years In Prison, Told To Pay Back Just $1.5 Million”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Odds on an appeal being filed?

On the one hand, his ego might compel him to try to appeal, sure that if he does that his brilliant mind will find some loophole.

On the other hand, with the thorough dressing down he received and his seriously scummy past a judge would have to have fallen down a flight of stairs head first to buy any argument he made about how he’s just a poor old man who didn’t really do anything wrong(which is not to say it’s impossible he’d find a judge that stupid, just very unlikely), which would leave him on the hook for even more legal fees and still facing the same penalties he’s currently dealing with.

As such I’d say odds of him filing an appeal are probably fairly high. Odds of him winning it, not so much.

wshuff (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Odds on an appeal being filed?

If I recall correctly, he argued in his motion to dismiss that his abuse of the legal system was simply a good faith exercise of the right to petition a court. Pages upon pages of bullshit. I imagine the government was fine with the conditional plea because they’re confident the appeal will do no better than Paul’s other bullshit.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Where's that tiny violin again...?

The monetary amount is likely chump-change given how much money they were making from their copyright extortion racket and how long they ran it, but the time… one can only hope that’s locked in and can’t be reduced by ‘good behavior’, because it’s crystal clear that the only thing that will stop that scumbag from running one extortion racket after another is the literal inability to do so, which jail should nicely accomplish.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Where's that tiny violin again...?

At least there’s no parole in federal prison.

He was also sentenced to 2 years of supervised release, for when after he is released from prison.

But I think he would still be eligible for early release for good behavior.
A quick google shows anybody serving more than 1 year and less than life in federal prison, can earn early release for "exemplary" behavior. They can earn up to 54 days per year off their sentence.
In Hansmeier’s case, that works out to possibly getting out in a little over 12 years, if he’s a real good boy and earns the maximum time off.

Alphonse Tomato says:

Re: Where's that tiny violin again...?

That may not be the end of the monetary amount, though. Long ago, judges started referring his case to the IRS. You figure he faithfully paid taxes on every cent he extorted? You may remember that what sent Al Capone to prison wasn’t the rackets and machine-gunned victims, it was that he’d somehow failed to pay his taxes. And, like Al, the Prenda folks don’t have friends in high places, so the IRS has no reason to pull their punches, if anything it’s a chance for the IRS to look like the good guys.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Like all too many bloggers these days, it seems that Ken White now spends most of his time on the big social media sites, while letting his own site slowly decay."

All the bloggers hanging out on these other platforms with all its vile speech, when they could be on their own safe-space site? Interesting. Now we know where all the new whining is coming from about wanting others to create their own site to go to

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: SO where's out_of_the_blue NOW?

blue wasn’t the most apoplectic of Prenda’s few fans. That honor went to horse with no name, who currently goes under the vaguely existent alias of John Smith, better known as "Jhon boi", "Herrick", "Delenda carthago, Section 230 must be destroyed" and "Section 230 lets landlords rape your daughter!"

Give him time. Even assholes need time to grieve.

jimb (profile) says:

I kind of like this sentence...

I kind of like this sentence. So often, we see "white collar" criminals being sentenced to what sound like large fines, and they get no time, or a ‘hand-slap’ of time in prison. In the case of corporate criminals, the corporation (actually the stockholders) end up paying, while the executives who engineered and oversaw the crime stay free. The deterrence value seems really weak, when these criminals get caught at all. Sometimes, who knew, they end up going on to greater things… like the presidency.

Now we get someone who probably stole ten or twenty times what the fine is, and has that stashed offshore somewhere. But they aren’t going to get that time back. Seems like a stronger deterrent. Next time we get some corporate CEO or executive VP guilty in a "white collar" "no victims" crime, the fine needs to fall easy on the stockholders, and the CEO and executives need to do a few years inside.

I like banning them from corporate leadership afterwards, too. It’s time CEOs and executives have some literal skin in ‘the game’, so they respect ‘the rules’ a little more…

M. A. Snicker-Snee says:

Techdirt blames copyright for the actions of LAWYERS.

You are simply continuing Techdirt’s twenty years of lying about copyright in every way possible, here by association with LAWYERS.

This whole Prenda flap doesn’t actually help you, kids. First, it shows that the court system works to get at Truth — particularly slowly in the instance because judge and lawyers are in the same medieval guild that protects its members so far as possible. Had they stopped instead of done a Clinton trying to buttress it, would have been dropped.

You count it as one of your few "victories" against copyright, but it’s not: it’s just the most greedy and incompetent of LAWYERS. — Isn’t even precedent against slightly more clever lawyers! That these were convicted is RARE anomaly indeed.

Then there’s the childish tactic of pirates here to associate dissenters with those lawyers. See above.

Your years-long mania for it and the clarity with which you try to shift blame to copyright as such is actually the most significant item in the long list against Techdirt’s advocacy of piracy, besides the pirates themselves here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Techdirt blames copyright for the actions of LAWYERS.

Copyright is entirely to blame here. Prenda believed they could leverage copyright’s lack of oversight and lucrative payouts just as the RIAA did before them.

If copyright enforcement was about truth, they wouldn’t run away from having their evidence verified. Every single time.

Maybe you’re not as faithful to Prenda as John Smith… but only because you weren’t dumb enough to join them in doubling down against Otis Wright.

And as expected, your tears are delicious. Glory to Paul Hansmeier, shining beacon of copyright!

Hugo S Cunningham (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No, the Oberlin verdict (which may be reduced or overturned on appeal) does not say that a mere expression of opinion ("racist") is libelous.

Instead, it focussed on a provable (or in this case disprovable) statement of fact– that the shop’s enforcement against shoplifting was "racial profiling." A police tabulation of shoplifting prosecutions by this store showed that only 6 out of 42 were against minorities. Also, the principal in this case and his two accomplices pleaded guilty.

Oberlin college was held liable because some of their officials disseminated the libelous charges.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Two lines? That’s it? Either you’re slipping, Herrick, or you’re grieving that much for the glorious reputation of copyright enforcement. Where’s the insults at Masnick’s expense? Where’s the Section 230 tirades?

Here, let me play you a song – on the world’s smallest violin. So much for saying that Prenda would appeal and Prenda would win! Hahahahahahahaha!

Anonymous Coward says:

Great to see justice come for Prenda.

Now do the Intersectionality Shake Down model. Increasingly we see outfits approach companies to hire them as an ‘intersectionality consultant’ to avoid the thinly veiled threat of outrage mobs targeting that business for libel and harassment.

Anita Sarkeesian an example of this, an activist with LARGE interesctional following known to whip up and direct outrage mobs in the past. She recently approached videogame members requesting they hire her on as ‘intersectionality consultant’ to avoid the type of mobs she’s organized and directed in the past.

There are many business models experimenting with deviations of this right now. Make loaded accusation against unsuspecting third party, whip up outraged mob using internet communications, then sit back as the outraged mob goes to work harassing and attacking the victim. We’ve seen communities from gaming to advertising to as mundane as knitting invaded with threads of this unless some form of concession is met.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Completely off-topic but I’ll comment anyway. Sarkeesian dissappeared into irrelevance after Gamergate, which gave her fame, wealth, and the (claimed) badge of victimhood. Now that her crowdfunding income has dried up as donors have grown weary of her never-ending "sky is falling" appeals, she wants to get paid by companies for spewing out the same type of nonsense as before. It’s a growing business, as many universities and corporations have large Diversity departments, roughly similar in objective to Saudi Arabia’s morality police.

Video games companies have already been force-feeding progressivist, social justice and feminist themes into their games over the last couple of years, and as a result have taken huge financial hits for it as many traditional gamers have refused to buy these new socially-engineered games. Whether gaming companies feel the need to hire more "diversity consultants" after that fiasco is anyone’s guess.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Turns out that constantly making a game teeter on the edge of infinite political correctness doesn’t inherently make it fun, who would’ve thought?

Victimhood is a lucrative business. The problem is that it’s inherently unsustainable. Either you satisfying the victim’s demands, and the demands stop – or they don’t, and you eventually run out of resources trying to placate everybody. The result is nobody gets satisfied, and the "victims" looking for a free payout are then forced to turn on each other.

Not that you’d ever hear the outraged mobs talk about lesbians who detest transexuals for trying to "cash in" from female privilege and insisting that males-to-females shouldn’t be allowed to use their bathrooms. No, the true evil is those filthy penis-bearers for having the audacity to be attracted to vagina-wielders, and anyone who disagrees is probably a rapist of the likes of Harvey Weinstein.

I hesitate to say if SJWs ruined gaming, at least in the way that sniper mains on first-person shooters do, but the constant implication that playing a game that involves a majority of heteronormative characters makes me a bigot by default is starting to get fucking grating.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dan Browning wrote about the sentencing:

"Manny Atwal, Hansmeier’s attorney, objected to the recommended restitution amount because investigators were unable to say precisely who downloaded which movie. She asked that Hansmeier’s sentence be limited to 87 months — or just over 7 years — in prison. She noted that Hansmeier’s wife, Padraigin Browne, was in court along with several of his family members."

So apparently according to Team Hansmeier, the FBI’s inability to prove who downloaded what and how much means that Paul deserves a lesser sentence… but the same inability to prove anything is somehow kosher for people to give Prenda Law money.

Copyright enforcement logic, ladies and gentlemen. I imagine few will be sorry to see John Smith’s hero and idol get sent to the slammer.

horse with no name just hates it when due process is enforced.

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