Twenty-one months later, an ethics complaint ends in disbarment.

JOE MULLIN - 5/22/2017, 5:21 PM

John Steele, one of the masterminds behind the Prenda Law "copyright trolling" scheme, has been disbarred. Court papers indicate that Steele agreed to the disbarment, which was announced by the Illinois Supreme Court on Friday.

Steele pled guilty in March to federal fraud and money laundering charges. Over the course of several years, Steele said he and a co-defendant, Paul Hansmeier, made more than $6 million with "sham entities" that threatened Internet users with copyright lawsuits.

Along with Hansmeier and a now-deceased attorney named Paul Duffy, Steele "conspired to extort settlement funds from thousands of Internet users in a multi-jurisdictional copyright litigation scheme," Illinois attorney regulators said in a statement of charges.

"Specifically, they attempted to exact settlements from users who allegedly infringed on the copyrights of certain pornographic movies, including movies that Mr. Steele himself produced and distributed."

Steele and Hansmeier uploaded their movies to file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay and then sued users who downloaded the content. They also hid the fact they were their own clients, often owning the shell LLCs that were the copyright owners.

They avoided trial but subpoenaed Internet service providers to get subscriber information. They would then barrage the accused subscribers with letters and phone calls, threatening "enormous financial penalties and public embarrassment unless they agreed to pay a $3,000 settlement fee."

Steele has yet to be sentenced. His former partner Hansmeier lost his law license last year. Steele has agreed to cooperate in the feds' case against Hansmeier, who is still contesting the charges against him.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Discipline Commission filed an ethics complaint against Steele 21 months ago. The charges are summarized in the court papers related to disbarment, available on the IARDC website and printed out on the Fight Copyright Trolls blog.