For years, John Steele has been half of a criminal enterprise masquerading as a copyright law firms, "Prenda Law," whose owners, clients and employees were a mix of lies, impersonations, and crumbs of reality. In a guilty plea, John Steele admitted that the whole thing was a con, that they stole $6,000,000 from innocent internet users by threatening them with draconian copyright lawsuits, and then laundered the money.
Steele also implicated his business partner Paul Hansmeier, who is awaiting trial.
Steele and Hansmeier created pornographic movies, uploaded them to file-sharing sites, then spied on the downloads and abused copyright law to uncover the identity of the downloaders in order to send them copyright threats. They repeatedly lied to judges about what they were doing, and forged documents implicating people in their circle, from a hapless handyman to a housekeeper to Steele's own mother-in-law.
The saga of Prenda's trolling lasted for more than half a decade, during which thousands of people had their lives turned upside-down by these fraudsters.
Steele will be sentenced by US District Judge Joan Ericksen of the District of Minnesota. The sentencing hasn't been scheduled yet.
His alleged co-conspirator, Paul Hansmeier, was also arrested and charged at the same time as Steele. Hansmeier's case hasn't yet been resolved. Hansmeier lost his law license last year after legal regulators accused him of the same types of activity that the FBI and IRS have investigated.
It's finally over: Mastermind behind Prenda Law porn trolls pleads guilty
[Joe Mullin/Ars Technica]