10:37, June 17 70 0 abajournal.com

2019-06-17 10:37:04
Lawyer who pleaded guilty in ‘wrecking ball’ scheme to sue porn downloaders gets prison sentence

lawyer in handcuffs

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A federal judge in Minneapolis scolded a suspended lawyer for his abuse of trust as she sentenced him Friday to 14 years in prison for a scheme to sue porn downloaders.

U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen said the former Prenda Law lawyer Paul Hansmeier had taken advantage of the courts, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

“It is almost incalculable how much your abuse of trust has harmed the administration of justice,” Erickson said. “The major harm here is what happens when a lawyer acts as a wrecking ball.” Torrent Freak, Ars Technica, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and MPR News also have coverage; a press release is here.

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 12 ½ years in prison for the scheme to upload pornographic movies to file-sharing websites and then to file infringement suits against people who illegally downloaded the content.

Hansmeier and a co-defendant had created sham companies to hold the copyrights and they made some of the movies themselves, yet they concealed their role in their lawsuits, prosecutors said.

The suits were filed against “John Doe” downloaders. When a downloader’s identity was revealed in discovery, the lawyers threatened legal action unless the downloader paid a settlement of about $3,000.

Hansmeier pleaded guilty last August to conspiracy charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, but he reserved the right to withdraw the plea if he succeeds in his appeal of a denied motion to dismiss the complaint. The appeal is pending, according to the Star Tribune.

Hansmeier will also have to pay restitution of $1.5 million.

Hansmeier is suspended from law practice in Minnesota and disbarred in Illinois.