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Former Florida lawyer John L. Steele and his Minnesota law partner used sham lawsuits to extort millions online pornography voyeurs. Photo: scyther5/iStockphoto.com. Former Florida lawyer John L. Steele and his Minnesota law partner used sham lawsuits to extort millions online pornography voyeurs. Photo: scyther5/iStockphoto.com.

A federal judge in Minnesota sentenced 48-year-old Florida attorney John Steele to five years in prison and two years of supervised release Tuesday, for his role in extorting about $3 million from victims to settle bogus copyright infringement lawsuits over pornographic films.

Steele, with his co-defendant and law partner Paul Hansmeier, lied to state and federal courts nationwide between 2011 and 2014, according to prosecutors. They used fake shell companies to obtain copyrights to pornographic movies, even filming some themselves, before uploading them to websites like The Pirate Bay. When unsuspecting John Does downloaded the videos, the attorneys would threaten them with a lawsuit unless they paid a $3,000 settlement.

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Raychel Lean

Raychel Lean is ALM's Florida bureau chief, overseeing the Daily Business Review. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter via @raychellean.

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