Prenda's John Steele Gets 5 Years In Prison; Insists He's Really, Really, Really Sorry

from the redeemable? dept

A month after his partner in crime Paul Hansmeier was sentenced to 14 years in prison, with scathing commentary from the judge in the case about Hansmeier and his copyright trolling scheme, John Steele has been sentenced to five years in prison in a sentencing that appeared to go quite differently than Hansmeier's. In front of the very same judge, a very different story was told. At the Hansmeier hearing, the judge said this:

"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.

At the Steele hearing, after federal prosecutors apparently heaped praise upon Steele for confessing, and helping build the case against Hansmeier, Erickson gave Steele a chance to speak, at which point he at least put on a credible performance of contrition. He explained how he had met Hansmeier, how Paul had concocted the scheme and he joined in -- including lying to federal judges about what they were up to. From the Star Tribune's Dan Browning's excellent reporting:

First, he said, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota Law School at the age of 37 without any sense of mission other than making money. It was there that he met and befriended Hansmeier, which led to a second poor decision in April 2010.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Steele said, choking up. “I received a call from Paul Hansmeier about an idea he had about seeding pornography content online.”

The third bad decision came when federal judges around the country began questioning Hansmeier’s and Steele’s methods of filing hundreds of lawsuits to identify the owners of computers that were used to download pornography so that they could pressure them to settle to avoid public humiliation.

Steele said he could have told the judges the truth but opted to blame others and hide behind offshore companies that had technical ownership of the copyrights on the movies.

This is... a very different version of Steele. I remember the long interview he gave with Kashmir Hill where he boasted of the success he was having and mocked the idea that his copyright trolling, by threatening to expose people's porn habits, was unethical by saying:

“People don’t like to get caught doing anything wrong,” he says. “They should be embarrassed about the stealing.”

Interesting quote. Or then there's the interview Steele did with Joe Mullin in which he did his usual bluster after a judge (Otis Wright) had first called him on his bullshit trolling scam. At the time, Steele seemed overly boastful of his ability to succeed:

It's not our job to—there was no evidence against us! I think everyone, even the people that dislike anti-piracy litigation, would agree that I don't have to answer questions if I don't want to. That's my right. The fact that people take the Fifth Amendment, against compelled testimony, is not allowed to be a negative inference.

I have no involvement in this case. I've never made a misrepresentation [to the court], either me or Paul Hansmeier.

This judge is completely biased against our type of litigation. Anyone who's researched this judge knows it. There have been some very harsh rulings by this judge against intellectual property plaintiffs. I think there were some errors made, and that's why we have appellate courts.

I think the judge knows we're going to appeal. He wrote that the sanctions were designed to cost just less than [an effective appeal]. Look, you may hate me and the litigation that's gone on in the past, but most people have to be a little nervous when a judge puts out a number and says that.

In that interview, he insisted that he had "no involvement" with the shell companies AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13. Of course, part of the federal charges, which Steele admitted to in great detail in his guilty plea, was that he and Hansmeier set up AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13. In his guilty plea documents:

In or about 2011, defendants convinced R.R., the owner of Heartbreaker Productions, to transfer the copyrights to Sexual Obsession and Popular Demand to AF Holdings. In order to disguise their control over AF Holdings, defendants used the name of an acquaintance of STEELE--whose initials are A.C.--on the copyright transfer agreement to purportedly sign on behalf of AF Holdings. Furthermore, defendants represented and caused to be represented to multiple courts that AF Holdings was owned by a trust named "Salt Marsh" whose manager and sole beneficiary was M.L., a paralegal employed by STEELE and Hansmeier. In fact, and as defendants knew, M.L. was nothing more than a figurehead who agreed to pose as the owner of AF Holdings in order to help STEELE and Hansmeier obscure their ownership and control over the company.

For long time Prenda watchers, you may recognize those initials. A.C. being Alan Cooper, a former caretaker for a cabin John Steele owned, whose name Steele forged on the various documents. Cooper, having no idea what was going on, later sued over the forged documents. M.L., of course is Mark Lutz, the "paralegal" who Steele and Hansmeier falsely tried to present as the real mastermind behind everything.

This week, in court, Steele told a very different story.

He said he went back to building and rehabbing homes and began studying stoicism. He said for the past couple of years he has been working for one of his sisters in Phoenix.

“I’m trying to live a life of virtue,” Steele said. “All I can control is obviously the thoughts and actions now and in the future. I think it’s important that I stand here today and look at you and apologize.”

The Assistant US Attorney in the case heaped praise upon Steele for his cooperation, and contrasted Steele to Hansmeier in how they dealt with the charges -- including noting how much Steele's assistance helped in getting Hansmeier to plead guilty as well (though Hansmeier's was "conditional" based on some of his legal attempts to dump the case).

Judge Ericksen still noted how abusive and serious the trolling operation was, but also noted that it appeared that Steele recognized how serious this whole thing was:

“You abused the court system, as you say, for your personal ends,” she said, adding that the courts “are not a tool in the box for anybody’s hustle.”

Even so, Ericksen agreed with prosecutors that given Steele’s cooperation and efforts to turn his life around, five years in prison was “eminently fair.” ....

“I condemn the actions that you took in committing this crime. I congratulate you, however, on the actions you took” in responding to the charges, Ericksen said.

The Judge had already order Hansmeier to pay back $1.5 million, and now put that on Steele too, making the two of them "jointly and severally liable" -- effectively meaning that the two of them together need to figure out how to come up with that cash to pay back.

Given how vocal and how adamant (and, frankly, how sleazy and confident he was that he could talk his way out of any mess) Steele was over the years, consider me not totally convinced that he's really had a change of heart. It would be great if that were true, but it's going to take more than a single performance in court to convince most of us. Either way, five years in prison is still a significant prison sentence. And, now, it appears we can finally close the books on Prenda.

Filed Under: copyright, copyright trolling, john steele, paul hansmeier
Companies: prenda, prenda law


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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 3:42pm

    'No really, terribly sorry... that reduces the sentence, right?'

    Let's see, arrogant and not at all remorseful when he's not in front of a judge who gets to determine how if and how long he sits in a cell, terribly sorry and repentant when he is in front of a judge...

    Yeah, not buying it for a second, and I expect the only thing he's 'sorry' for is that the highly lucrative copyright extortion racket he was running has been derailed and he might have to do some honest work.

    Five years is a pittance considering how long he was sowing suffering, but it's better than the nothing he's faced before this, and if nothing else he should find it just a tad more difficult to abuse the legal system for personal gain behind bars.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 3:51pm

    I was impressed with his sisters letter asking for leniency.

    He gave her her first job at his computer school in FL...
    Except that school was a scam, ripped the students off, & vanished with the cash... sorta confused why the Feds missed this. But why investigate when you can just pile charges on 1 guy with the help of the other.

    Its also nice how they managed to ignore his entire work history before trolling and the clients he abused & courts he lied to.

    But hey they got the 'mastermind' so the big headline is how awesome they are...

    Steele is just going to bide his time until no ones looking...
    Remember just before the shoe dropped he started copying the ADA trolling scam... but I'm sure that was just Hans mind controlling him & not his desire for shoeboxes of cash.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 3:56pm

    Fare thee well, Prenda.

    You won’t be missed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    bobob, 10 Jul 2019 @ 3:56pm

    Fortunately, when he gets out, he will likely never get his bar license back and we will not have to find out how sorry he "really" is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Glen, 10 Jul 2019 @ 3:57pm

    I still want to know who Salt Marsh is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 3:58pm

    Quick, to the Mystery Mobile!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 4:00pm

    Re:

    Hey now, there's almost no problem that a shoebox full of cash, appropriately applied, can't solve.

    Of course, some of those applications involve blunt trauma, but hey...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 4:05pm

    Re: 'No really, terribly sorry... that reduces the sentence, rig

    Well if the justice system worked perfectly, then the 5 year sentence would be a good start on convincing him that actually regretting his choices is a good place to be.

    However I won't be holding my breath.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 4:12pm

    Re: Try Our New Salt Marsh With Real Butter

    Orville Redenbachers new brand of microwave popcorn. With just a hint of Schadenfreude.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Captain Slog, 10 Jul 2019 @ 4:16pm

    Funny world: copyright infringers AND frauds all get prosecuted!

    https://torrentfreak.com/alleged-mastermind-of-giant-pirate-manga-site-arrested-in-manilla-190710/

    https://torrentfreak.com/police-scam-streaming-sites-are-exploiting-internet-users-190707/

    https:// torrentfreak.com/brein-obtains-court-order-to-stop-pirate-ebook-sharing-on-facebook-190704/

    You don't know about pirates / infringers LOSING by reading one-sided Techdirt. It's too fragile to report fairly, might discourage and lose the last few pirates.

    It'd be nice is this has AT LONG LAST run its course. It's the only real "good" news that Techdirt has, that's why re-written -- unnecessarily: it's mere filler for the 3:30 slot.

    Now, before Techdirt's symbiontic fanboy-trolls spew yet more LIES, I repeat that want LITERAL BY-THE-NECK-UNTIL-DEAD HANGING for any lawyer that commits fraud on a court. They're Officers Of The Court and agreed to follow rules in exchange for being able to "practice law".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 4:32pm

    Re: Funny world: copyright infringers AND frauds all get prosecu

    you overdosed

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 4:56pm

    Re:

    Quick, to the Mystery Mobile!

    Ummmm... isn't it the Mystery Machine?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 5:07pm

    Re:

    You underestimate the forgiveness of the Bar in IL.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 5:08pm

    Re: Re:

    I dunno the shoebox didn't seem to fix Hans's bankruptcy problems, in fact they kinda made them a lot worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 5:09pm

    Re:

    RutRoh Reven

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 5:12pm

    Re: Funny world: copyright infringers AND frauds all get prosecu

    Did mom never hug you?

    Yep never cover people targeted by extortionists on here nope nope nope...
    Care then to explain why almost the entire Scooby Gang posts here?

    You don't seem well, none of us ever wanted to see the Prenda gang dead, just meeting justice.

    As I am often want to do....
    BYE FELECIA!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 5:13pm

    Re: Keep crying I’m almost there!

    I can almost taste your tears.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Gary (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 5:19pm

    Re: Funny world: Trolls perish

    LITERAL BY-THE-NECK-UNTIL-DEAD HANGING

    First off - you don't know what "Literal" means. Google it.
    Second - your key capslock is broken. You should get that looked at.
    Third - Copyright is a right granted to corporations by the federal government. You hate the feds, and hate corporate rights - so your complaints are hilarious.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 5:23pm

    Quick question, Blue: Do you believe corporations should have the right to silence legally protected speech with the use of a copyright takedown?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 5:35pm

    He is just scamming the feds and the court, and maybe himself a little. Whatever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 6:02pm

    Re:

    I repeat that want LITERAL BY-THE-NECK-UNTIL-DEAD HANGING for any lawyer that commits fraud on a court

    Last I checked Monique Wadsted still walks the earth.

    What a surprise to catch you lying again, blue.

    How's that copyright fund for Paul Hansmeier coming along?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 6:03pm

    You don't know about pirates / infringers LOSING by reading one-sided Techdirt.

    However, to emphasized your point by referring to Torrent Freak, which the copyright-is-god crowd considers far more pro-piracy than Techdirt.

    I haz a cognitive dissonanz.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 6:11pm

    Re: blue and John Smith sitting in a tree

    This is all the outrage you can muster? Fucking hell, blue. You're slipping.

    No, I don't care if John Smith has fallen on your lap and can't get up.

    This is the end result you copyright fucknuggets richly deserved for screwing kids over. You earned it. You made your bed by shitting in it. And now we're going to make you lie in it!

    Bwahahahahahaha!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 6:28pm

    I would definitely consider John Steele to be the scumier of the two lawyers. He was quick to stick a knife in his partner's back, knowing (as most all of us know) that the first person to squeal gets a much reduced punishment. And squeal he did, blaming everything on Hansmeier, who was by then too late to possibly plea bargain his way out. And we're supposed to believe that after many years of nonstop chutzpah and hubris, Steele's sudden remorse is sincere?

    Five years in prison for running a multi-million-dollar extortion racket indeed seems like a slap on the wrist, especially when compared to similar sentences for copyright infringers who never made a penny off their work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Gary (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 6:46pm

    Re:

    corporations should have the right to silence legally protected speech with the use of a copyright takedown?

    Blue Balls says corporations have no rights. So they can't enforce copyrights. Right?? LOL

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 6:57pm

    For each "I am sorry." he should get another 5 years for continuing to spread hate and lies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Memphis_Slim.Ru, 10 Jul 2019 @ 7:48pm

    I've been a lurker on this site for over a decade, rarely commenting, but this brings an OG like me out of the woodwork to say, "Geezus fuck! Finally!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 10 Jul 2019 @ 7:56pm

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 8:18pm

    Re:

    Steele has the benefit of Hansmeier being an even bigger unrepentant psychopath than he is. Not only did Hansmeier choose not to finger Steele to be just as, if not more culpable, Hansmeier chose to pursue ADA trolling after Prenda went belly up. Daddy Hansmeier, instead of doing what Steele's family and friends did (and his wife and in-law) and pled leniency based on Hansmeier's good boy history, doubled down with Hansmeier by claiming what Paul did wasn't violent crime, resulted only in a few million bucks in losses, and was a "victimless" offense.

    Also Paul's brother was involved as one of the "forensic experts" in some of their documents, so it's not hard to stretch the idea that Hansmeier was the more involved one.

    Steele threw Hansmeier under the bus, but Hansmeier made little attempt to crawl out under it. In fact his actions effectively tied the millstone around his own neck.

    Honestly the whole thing is an insightful look into copyright enforcement. Remember, kids. If copyright enforcement fucks up, nabs the wrong person, and enriches itself by screwing over the innocent, copyright enforcement believes it is a "victimless" crime. Let that sink in the next time you deal with IP fanatics.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 10:18pm

    “Prendas gonna appeal and they’re gonna win!”

    It would almost be worth having horse with no name come back just so I could stuff that apple of a quote down his gullet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 10:53pm

    And, now, it appears we can finally close the books on Prenda.

    I suspect that Hansmeier will appeal, so there will be at least a couple more articles about Prenda before it's all over with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 10:54pm

    Re:

    He's back. He used to post as John Smith.

    Though to be honest, his Prenda fanboyism was at least less dumb than his recent "Section 230 allows men to call women hookers, also Masnick is married and I hate that shit" screed...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jul 2019 @ 11:48pm

    “I trying live a life of virtue”

    Oh god did you suddenly “find Jesus” as well?
    Give him 10 to make sure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2019 @ 4:10am

    Re:

    Do you think the children should tell the adults what gender they are? Or should they wait until their brain has fully developed and are responsible for their own decisions before deciding that?

    I guess if the law says the parents are legally responsible then that is that right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Roy Rogers, 11 Jul 2019 @ 4:15am

    I believe him.

    He is really really sorry he got caught.

    He only co-operated when it was the only option left. Less time to serve by co-operating.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Jul 2019 @ 4:27am

    Whatever you’re smoking, it’s not nearly good enough to keep you from sounding like an idiot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2019 @ 4:30am

    Re:

    Maybe sounding like an idiot was the goal?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2019 @ 5:20am

    Re: Altogether now!

    There once was a horse with no name
    Who said John Steele wasn't to blame
    When he was asked why
    He gave out a cry,
    "John wiped off my face when he came!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 11 Jul 2019 @ 6:52am

    Re:

    Uh geee...
    Thanks?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2019 @ 7:14am

    should have added a zero on the end of that term! the asshole wasn't sorry when he was screwing people into the ground, usually for doing nothing wrong, and pulling in thousands of dollars every week! mind you, the entertainment industries are still doing it, they've just others to be the fall guys, if needed! they wont be satisfied until they have taken complete control of the Internet and will go to any lengths to get it!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    digitari, 11 Jul 2019 @ 12:04pm

    the Real shame

    The real shame to all of this is he is not going to "real" prison is he?

    he gets the "country club" prison.

    He should go to Rikers; Then his 5 years would have meaning.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    Richard O, 11 Jul 2019 @ 1:24pm

    Re:

    I seem to recall that the IRS was looking at the operation too. I wonder if anything has or will come of that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. icon
    Adrian Cherry (profile), 11 Jul 2019 @ 3:49pm

    Re:

    or which bitTorrent site you're using!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2019 @ 5:42pm

    Re: Re: Altogether now!

    Testify, brother, testify!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2019 @ 6:36pm

    Blunt subject

    I will keep this simple.
    I hope he dies In that “rich guys club fed” jail and burns In hell afterwards.
    He’s not sorry. In fact when he gets out he’s going o do it again because he is an irredeemable white collar criminal that will probably get 2 years after paying somone to say good behavior. No sorrow for him whatsoever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2019 @ 6:40pm

    Re:

    Maybe the world will get lucky and some transport in holding from an ACTUAL jail will pick him to be his new favorite for a day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Jul 2019 @ 7:26am

    Re: Funny world: copyright infringers AND frauds all get prosecu

    Oh, look, yet another diatribe by Baghdad Bob's sock puppet number ten thousand and one.

    Where he introduces three links which serve excellently to underscore why the odds are still higher to catch stray lightning bolts and meteorites than for a pirate to get caught and prosecuted.

    "You don't know about pirates / infringers LOSING by reading one-sided Techdirt. It's too fragile to report fairly, might discourage and lose the last few pirates."

    The same way most media reporting that the coalition of the willing trounced Iraq and hung Saddam are too fragile to handle the truth that any day now the republican guard will run the US out of Iraq, amirite?

    That's just such an unmistakable Baghdad Bob/bobmail comment you got there, blue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Jul 2019 @ 7:28am

    Re: Re:

    "Maybe sounding like an idiot was the goal?"

    Well, that's ONE way to ensure success which even Baghdad Bob/bobmail/blue can manage...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Jul 2019 @ 7:33am

    Re:

    "It would almost be worth having horse with no name come back just so I could stuff that apple of a quote down his gullet."

    He never left. It's just that he's consistently changing the name of the sock puppets he uses to post all the damn time because they keep getting themselves banned.

    So consider that apple stuffed right down his gullet, right on top of every other outright debunking of his prior deluded rants.
    Not, unfortunately, that having an apple shoved down his gullet does much to keep him from talking out of his ass...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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