We learned this morning that John Steele was arrested under 17 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and perjury. I have detailed the charges lower down in the article, and a link to the Star Tribune article can be found here (and sincere kudos to both DTD & SJD for breaking this story). The link to the indictment itself can be found here.
For those of you who became readers more recently, one of the first prolific copyright trolls was John Steele, formerly from Steele Law Firm PLLC, then from Steele|Hansmeier, then most popularly, from #Prenda Law Inc. (that last name even earned itself a hashtag and a group of followers on Twitter).
John Steele hired many lawyers across the US who acted as his “local counsel” just as Keith Lipscomb later did on a larger scale with the Malibu Media, LLC [x-art.com] copyright holder. [As I’ve written before, I believe that Voltage Pictures, Inc. is doing the same thing in a manner which has not yet become public knowledge with their Dallas Buyers Club, Fathers & Daughters, September Productions, Cell Productions, and a number of other non-adult film copyright infringement cases slowly making their way through the federal courts.]
The relevance here is that John Steele was the original kingpin, and TODAY HE WAS ARRESTED for the following:
COUNT #1) Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud (18 USC §1349) [using the U.S. mail to extort settlements from bittorrent defendants]
COUNTS #2-6) Mail Fraud 18 USC §1341 [using the U.S. mail to send “scare letters” threatening to sue accused John Doe Defendants unless they settled the claims against them.]
COUNTS #7-16) Wire Fraud 18 USC §1343 [using the internet to process settlement checks and upload torrent files containing adult films which they would later track and sue defendants for the download thereof]
COUNT #17) Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering (18 USC §1956(h)) [for the transfer of settlement funds received, knowing that those funds were proceeds from unlawful activity, and disguising the nature, source, ownership, and control of those proceeds.]
COUNT #18) Conspiracy to Commit and Suborn Perjury (18 USC §371) [by scheming to conceal and disguise their involvement by providing false and misleading testimony and declarations, for example, and Mark Lutz (the paralegal) was really the CEO behind all of their activities, etc.]
In short, there is so much to say about this story which has been an evolving saga since 2010 (now six years and counting). Many internet users were hurt by their activities, and the injustices that John Steele, the Hansmeier brothers, Mark Lutz, and the others more well known as “the Prenda gang” perpetrated on so many thousands of accused John Doe Defendants are still being copied by many copyright troll attorneys even today.
My personal opinion is that this arrest should be a warning sign to other copyright troll attorneys who are still filing lawsuits against John Doe defendants even today using the same tactics described here. The scheme described in the indictment has not been stopped, and it continues (albeit in more hidden forms where attorneys go through such great lengths to make their outfit appear legitimate).
My only message to the other copyright trolls perpetuating this scheme is not that “I’m watching,” or that “you’re being seen by the internet bloggers for what you are,” but that the U.S. Federal Government is watching.
John Steele’s problems are not over. There are still other departments likely analyzing their activities. The one department that comes to mind is the Criminal Law Enforcement arm of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Other Links of interest relating to this topic:
DieTrollDie: John Steele & Paul Hansmeier (Steele|Hansmeier, AKA: Prenda Law) Arrested – December 2016
Fight Copyright Trolls: Steele and Hansmeier Have Been Indicted On Fraud, Money Laundering Charges
ArsTechnica: Prenda Law ‘copyright trolls’ Steele and Hansmeier arrested
…and likely many others to come.
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