The Pirate Bay played a crucial role in the case, since it’s where Prenda uploaded porn movies to extract settlements from alleged pirates. Hansmeier admitted his wrongdoing but is requesting a more lenient prison sentence of little over 7 years. The U.S. is recommending a 12.5 year prison sentence for Paul Hansmeier, one of the lead attorneys of the controversial law firm Prenda.
The sentencing recommendation prepared by the prosecutors has nothing good to say about Hansmeier. In fact, the prosecutors make it clear they’d have given him even more than the 12+ years they’ve recommended. After making a career out of extorting settlements from alleged porn-watching infringers, extorting settlements from small businesses with bogus ADA complaints, attempting to hide his wealth from his creditors (some of which were owed money for sanctions imposed in copyright trolling cases), and otherwise putting on a one-man show entitled “Why We Hate Lawyers,” Hansmeier is facing the possibility of spending the next decade in prison.
Prenda Law, also known as Steele Hansmeier PLLP and Anti-Piracy Law Group, was a Chicago-based law firm that ostensibly operated by undertaking litigation against copyright infringement, but was later characterized by the United States District Court for Central California in a May 2013 ruling as a “porno-trolling collective” whose business model “relies on deception”, and which resembled most closely a conspiracy and racketeering enterprise, referring in the judgment to RICO the United States Federal anti-racketeering law. The firm ostensibly dissolved itself in July 2013 shortly after the adverse ruling (although onlookers describe Alpha Law Firm LLC as its apparent replacement), while in 2014, ABA Journal-Law News described the “Prenda Law saga” as entering “legal folklore”.
In the 2013 civil ruling, Prenda Law, and three named principals, John Steele, Paul Hansmeier, and Paul Duffy, were found to have undertaken vexatious litigation, identity theft, misrepresentation and calculated deception (including “fraudulent signature”), professional misconduct and to have shown moral turpitude. The principals were also deemed to have founded and been the de facto owners and officers of the shell company which plaintiff and their alleged “client” created in order to “give an appearance of legitimacy”. As a result, the firm and its principals were fined; the matter was also referred to the United States Attorney for Central California (for criminal indictment consideration) and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division (for tax fraud consideration). A fourth attorney, Brett Gibbs, was also sanctioned, fined, and referred to a disciplinary committee by the court for false statements and his part in the subsequent cover-up, though described as their employee.(Gibbs’ monetary sanctions were later vacated after turning whistleblower as part of his appeal). Subsequently, other Federal courts in different states also ruled in a similar manner against the firm and/or others linked to it, including fraud upon the court ruled in a Minnesota court review of five closed cases and “relentless willingness to lie” in an Illinois court, criminal prosecutor referrals also occurred or were suggested in other jurisdictions. Subsequently Steele and Hansmeier both pleaded guilty in Federal court to a range of criminal charges related to and including extortion and fraudulent conduct, with substantial sums of their criminal proceeds to be reimbursed and faced lengthy sentences (Duffy having died prior to charges being brought).