FBI Reportedly Investigating Prenda Law

Jul 6, 2015 4:39 PM PST

LOS ANGELES — Prenda Law attorneys have reportedly been on the FBI’s radar for more than a year.  

Confirmation of a federal investigation comes from Pirate Bay co-founders Peter Sunde and Fredrik Neij, who both told Torrent Freak that they were questioned about the law firm during their stays in prison.

The now-disbanded law firm’s principals have been accused of seeding the Internet with porn and creating a “honeypot” for the people they later sued over pirated downloads.

A probe of the former law firm’s partners — John Steele, Paul Duffy, Brett Gibbs and Paul Hansmeier — isn’t so outrageous, particularly considering that the attorneys were blasted by a federal judge in May 2013 because they were said to have "outmaneuvered the legal system."

At the time, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright, calling the firm a "porno-trolling collective,” sanctioned the attorneys and also said they should be held accountable over possible federal racketeering violations and probed over their tax returns, among other disciplinary measures.

Pirate Bay’s Sunde told Torrent Freak that Swedish police officers were sent to visit him in prison on behalf of the FBI to ask questions about Prenda Law.

“I was told that Prenda Law has been under investigation for over a year, and from the printouts they showed me, I believe that,” Sunde said. “They asked many questions about the The Pirate Bay backups and logs. I told them that even if they have one of the backups that it would be nearly impossible to decrypt.”

After Sunde was questioned in prison, officers queried Neij on behalf of the FBI, Torrent Freak reported.

“They wanted to know if I could verify the accuracy of the IP-address logs, how they were stored, and how they could be retrieved,” Neij said.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told XBIZ on Monday that she couldn’t confirm nor deny a Prenda Law probe.  

Allegations over a Prenda Law honeypot arose several years ago when attorney Graham Syfert, representing a defendant accused of poaching porn on a BitTorrent network, said in a court filing that the law firm was running it based on an expert’s analysis over IP addresses.

A forensic expert, Delvan Neville, said that many of the torrents in Prenda lawsuits originated from a user on The Pirate Bay called “Sharkmp4.”

Neville’s report describe many connections between Sharkmp4, the tracking company, and Prenda Law, including ties to a Comcast IP address to Steele’s GoDaddy account.

Neville said the same IP address is connected with Ingenuity 13 — one of the litigating porn companies tied to the law firm — whose work was shared by Sharkmp4 before it was commercially available.

“It appears from all the evidence that John Steele (or someone under his control or with access to his GoDaddy account records with authorization to make changes to domain names) is the most probable candidate for the identity of Pirate Bay user Sharkmp4,” Neville said at the time.

Prenda Law, while disbanded, has been fighting off numerous sanctions made by federal judges.

In the meantime, at least one of its former lawyers has moved on.

Hansmeier has a new law firm called Class Justice, which files American with Disabilities Act suits against small businesses for not being up to date with disability accommodations.

Class Justice’s tactics sound familiar: Send a notice threatening businesses with lawsuits if renovations for accommodations aren't made, then offering to settle for big bucks.

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