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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Lutz’

johnsteelearrested

We learn 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-pornographic 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]

sh-clip1-mailfraud

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.]

sh-clip2-mailfraud
COUNTS #7-16) Wire Fraud 18 USC §1343 [using the internet to process settlement checks and upload torrent files containing porn which they would later track and sue defendants for the download thereof]

sh-clip3a-wirefraudsh-clip3b-wirefraud

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.]

and,

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.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

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Monday’s order against John Steele / Prenda Law Inc. / Steele|Hansmeier (no matter which of these entities hurt you through their “copyright trolling” activities) is nothing other than a wonderful victory for justice, and I thank and commend the lawyers involved in bringing justice to one of the worst sets of copyright infringement (bittorrent-based) cases I have seen in my law career.

My apologies for leaving attorneys out of this (as there were many who were involved in making this happen) and for my lack of recollection of the details, but immediate kudos goes to Paul Godfread who served John Steele while he got off of an elevator as soon as he realized that his client Alan Cooper (who did landscaping for Steele) had his identity stolen by Steele and his signature forged as the mastermind behind all of the bittorrent cases.

This was a common theme in Steele’s lawsuits — pick a patsy (whether it was Alan Cooper, Mark Lutz [his paralegal], or Paul Duffy [rest in peace]), elevate that patsy to be the “mastermind” behind all of the lawsuits, hire local counsel across the U.S. to file lawsuits, and run every lawsuit like the captain of the ship while being tied to none of the lawsuits for liability purposes.

The story goes much deeper and it involved many twists and turns, but bottom line, through the hard work of Paul Godfread, Morgan Pietz, Jason Sweet, Erin Russell, Steven Yuen, David Madden, and so many more attorneys that I cannot even remember, AND the almost daily blogging by bloggers such as Sophisticated Jane Doe (FightCopyrightTrolls.com) and DTD (DieTrollDie.com), none of this would have happened and these guys would still be suing hundreds of John Doe defendants at a time in their newest scheme (whether that be accusing defendants of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), or shaking down companies for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), etc.).

As a result of the judicious reporting of the Steele|Hansmeier / Prenda Law Inc. activities, their scheme has been halted, and the crew are being investigated by the FBI, and (I’ve heard, maybe even) by the IRS for tax evasion.  Paul Hansmeier (one of the Hansmeier brothers) has been disbarred, Steele (I believe) still has his law license (although I remember Steele withdrew from the practice of law himself before being disbarred), and Mark Lutz (the “paralegal” or the “mastermind,” depending on when you ask him) is “in the wind.”

Most importantly, as of Monday, the “Alan Cooper / Paul Godfried” case defending against Steele and Prenda Law Inc. (Case No. 1:13-cv-01569 in the ILND Court) [also known as “Prenda v. The Internet”] has been won.  Judge John Darrah (IL) awarded the defendants $162,448.74 in attorney fees and costs, $11,758.20 in sanctions, AND $500,000 in punitive damages (see Judge’s Order).

Now I am no longer sure whether Prenda Law Inc. has the assets to pay these fees (because if I remember correctly, as part of their scheme, they siphoned the $4-5 Million or so in settlement monies out of the law firm and into an offshore trust in Nevis.

My opinion is that justice is slow to act, and while this is a good result, it does not benefit any of the thousands and tens of thousands of defendants who had their lives destroyed and their savings decimated by these attorneys.  I still think that the justice system failed its people because judges got lazy for years and failed to stop the racket, even when they knew of their activities.  Even today as an outgrowth of the Prenda Law Inc. / Steele|Hansmeier empire, we find Malibu Media LLC lawsuits, Voltage Pictures lawsuits [including Dallas Buyers Club LLC, Fathers and Daughters Nevada LLC, Cell Productions, Criminal Productions Inc.], and too many other “copyright troll” lawsuits which are still rubber-stamped DAILY in the federal courts by judges who ARE AWARE and who WERE AWARE of the “mass bittorrent lawsuit / copyright trolling” problem when the cases initially were filed as early as 2010.

In short, on 5/6/2015, I wrote an article entitled,

No Orange Jumpsuits Predicted For Prenda Law Inc. Just sanctions.

I hate to see that it has been almost seven years since these cases started showing up (six years for team Prenda), and nobody has been jailed.  Judges have failed to guard the gates leading into their courtrooms.  Attorney Generals have sat on their hands and done nothing.  Lawmakers have done nothing.  Bar associations have done nothing.  Thus, I continue to defend these cases in whatever form they have changed into, but I too remain jaded.  This result is a good result, and the FBI/DOJ/IRS so-called investigations are nice to see (referring to SJD’s web logs of individuals visiting her blog), but I am not moved nor is my heart [on behalf of all those who have been affected by this] made whole by this ruling.

Okay, I didn’t expect to go here with the blog article, but in short, awarding $500,000 in damages against Prenda Law Inc. is one wonderful step in the right direction.  I just still want to see orange.

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On Friday I wrote a scathing review of the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274) case dismissal, but I did not post it. In short, congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients (and all the others implicated in this case) who have been dismissed from the case.

The difficulty I am facing is that while being dismissed is the goal of any John Doe defendant in a bittorrent case, in my opinion, I am uncomfortable with the way the dismissal happened.

As many of you know, there was new precedent set by Judge Facciola’s ruling in the West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,434 (Case No. 1:11-cv-00055) case, and as a result, Judge Reggie Walton gave the plaintiffs until March 9th, 2012 to start naming or dismissing defendants. In short, instead of admitting improper jurisdiction, yet another D.C. judge opted to invoke the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4(m) which gives plaintiffs 120 days to either name or dismiss defendants. Understanding that the Prenda Law Inc. plaintiff attorneys had no interest in continuing the lawsuit against individual Doe defendants, they dismissed the case.

Now while it is always nice when opposing counsel opts to kill a case rather than move forward against defendants, Prenda Law Inc.’s local counsel revealed more than he probably should have to the court. In a move which probably angered Paul Duffy and his superiors, Tim Anderson wrote the following paragraph:

Plaintiff acknowledges the Court’s busy docket; Plaintiff is currently engaged in settlement negotiations with a substantial number of putative Doe Defendants. Rather than prematurely initiate litigation against individuals who may ultimately wish to resolve Plaintiff’s claims via settlement — and thus needlessly burden the Court — Plaintiff believes that dismissing the claims against the remaining non-settling Doe Defendants in this action without prejudice in lieu of filing actions against non-settling individuals strikes a favorable balance between preserving Court resources and safeguarding its intellectual property rights.

In other words, “Court, we are dismissing the case so that you do not need to waste your time looking over us watching what we are doing. We would prefer not to have you watch us anyway because you will force us to do something we don’t want to do (e.g., “name” defendants), which would make our extortion scheme much more costly to us and thus we wouldn’t be able to sustain our operation if we had to actually go after defendants. So thanks to you, since we now have all the names we need from the ISPs of the putative Doe Defendants, we will continue to call and harass those who haven’t settled without having you worry about what we are doing.”

In short, I would have liked to see the judge issue an order indicating that since they have dismissed the case, they are no longer permitted to use the names they acquired from the subpoenas and collect settlements from putative defendants. The legal system is not a tool to discover private information about internet subscribers only to dismiss the case and continue their extortion scheme offline.

For this reason, I suspect that you understand why I am not so happy with this case dismissal. Getting your names only to dismiss the action was simply part of their plan all along.

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The bittorrent cases are speeding up, both in number of cases filed, and in the issues relating to the cases. Judges are smartening up to what is going on, and I am seeing the smaller “Does 1-23” cases ripped to shreds in the courts. But, because they are so small, the activities in each case are falling below the radar.

These smaller cases are now filed in the multiple courts across the country — the correct courts — with the John Doe Defendants often living in the states in which they are sued. Thus, there are no more motion to quash issues, and there are no more “wrong jurisdiction” arguments.

However, while NEARLY ALL the smaller lawsuits still have “improper joinder” issues (meaning, suing Does together in the same lawsuit who did not participate in the same swarm; thus, they did not take part in the same transaction at the same time), THE CASES ARE SIMPLY NOT GOING TO TRIAL and thus defendants are not getting the chance to contest improper joinder.

The problem with these smaller cases is that 1) the settlement amounts are elevated, and 2) the risk of being named as a defendant goes through the roof because all that is required to name defendants in these smaller cases is that the plaintiff merely needs to amend the complaint against a particular Doe (thus the case will change from Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-30 to Patrick Collins v. “Elliot Hendel” and Does 1-29 [this name is merely fictitious]), and then someone comes knocking at Elliot’s home and serves him a copy of the complaint. At that point if he has not already done so [and he should have hired an attorney immediately upon having notice from his ISP that he was one of the Does in this case], he has to hire an attorney to respond within 20 days with his answer and his counterclaims, or he will default (which means the court can enter a default judgment against him for the full $150,000).

However, the BIG SECRET is that for the most part, these defendants do NOT get named as defendants, and they remain anonymous as far as what is visible from the court’s eyes. Instead, the plaintiff attorneys scare the b’jeebies out of them and cause them in some cases to sign [in many cases] an “I’m guilty, I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again” settlement agreement. The end result is that they end up paying significantly more than they would have if they merely called an attorney and had that attorney negotiate on their behalf. To make matters worse, defendants do not realize that there are really three-tiers of settlement prices (not two) — 1) the plaintiff attorney’s asking price (the “pay us $X by this date or else we’ll name you as a defendant in this case” amount), 2) defendant-negotiated price, and 3) attorney-negotiated price.

When the defendant tries to negotiate his settlement on his own, the likelihood is that he will probably say something incriminating about his case. (For example, not knowing the case law, he may say, “it wasn’t me; it was probably my son — he uses the internet all the time; I keep telling him not to watch that porn,” or “I let my neighbor / son / guest / roommate use my internet,” or “I didn’t realize it was illegal to download — I thought it was only illegal to upload!” etc.) The result is that the plaintiff says, “thank you for telling me you are guilty; the offer is now off the table and I will see you in court <click>,” only to call back shortly afterwards and, in the graces of his heart, he will offer a new settlement amount which is nearly double the asking price of the original settlement amount.

It is not only important to have an attorney negotiate your settlement amount 1) because he can, and 2) he won’t incriminate you while you would likely incriminate yourself, but also, the attorney knows the case law [which is not so obvious], and he knows what to put into a settlement agreement so that the settling defendant does not later get sued for the same claim, attorney fees, etc. It kills me to see so many people turn around and try to settle on their own without reading what they are agreeing to. What burns me more is when attorneys don’t read the contracts they have their clients agree to.

…In short, the plaintiff attorney mops up the floor with the defendants, and many of the defendants (if not most of them) turn over and lay dead while they capitulate and settle their cases. Had they lawyered-up, they would have known how to protect themselves. Better yet, their lawyer would have stepped in their shoes and the plaintiff attorneys would not have even been allowed to contact the defendants in the first place. No letters, no scare tactics; no threats.

Everything being said, one thing that most don’t even bother to find out is who exactly their plaintiff attorneys are. In more cases than not, the plaintiff attorney is merely a guy in a room with a laptop and a phone. Sometimes there is a second lawyer guy in the room making phone calls scaring the defendants into settling — a two-man show. …Do you really think this one or two-man show actually has the ability to sue more than just a few defendants, and if you defendants lawyered-up, do you think the plaintiff attorneys would have the time to name each and every one of you? AND if they named each and every one of you (which is literally impossible because to serve each one of you with service of process would be nearly impossible to track and there are bound to be significant errors), do you think they would have time to respond to each and every one our discovery requests?

As your attorney, when I defend you, I have a duty to properly protect your interests. That means that us attorneys must establish evidence that calls into question their so-called experts’ methods in collecting IP addresses (see here for just a taste). We need to call into question their methods of suing multiple Does in one lawsuit. We need to fight them procedurally with motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgement, and in some cases, motions for sanctions.

Do you think that the one-man show attorney and their underlying plaintiff (too often, the porn production company) can handle the hours of deposition time that EACH OF YOU DEFENDANT would be entitled to? What about their so-called experts? Do you think they have the time to answer all our in-person depositions for each defendant? What about our interrogatories? What about our other discovery motions? Do you really think the one-man show — the attorney guy in the room with a laptop — has the time to spend going after each one of you when he can instead go after the unrepresented defendants who roll over and settle their cases?

To make these cases merely insulting, these plaintiff attorneys have been hiring no-name local-counsel attorneys to file their cases on their behalf (no disrespect to any of them; I understand they are doing it solely so that they can make a commission off of those who settle). As far as I understand, the local counsel often know absolutely NOTHING about these cases, but they talk a big game and then sheepishly refer you to someone else — an “in-house” negotiator, or the attorney behind the curtain — so that they can “close” the deal for them and scare you into settling. If you actually had us attorneys defend your cases rather than merely have us settle them, do you really think the BIG-8 ATTORNEYS (listed below) would have the time and the patience to babysit these local counsel when they ask for assistance after we file our own motions for discovery?

Thus, a client in these smaller Does 1-20 (or 1-50, or 1-80) cases does not need to settle, especially if they do not live in the jurisdiction in which they are sued. This is true regardless of whether the plaintiff attorney is Dunlap Grubb & Weaver (Nicholas Kurtz or Ellis Bennett), Steele Hansmeier (John Steele or Mark Lutz), Gill Sperlein, Ira Siegel, Keith Lipscomb, or even Marc Randazza.

We do know how to defend these smaller cases.

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