Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!
– Sir Walter Scott
Chicago attorney Paul Duffy and his two conniving colleagues, John Steele and Paul Hansmeier, hoped to make millions with the web they wove – on the worldwide web – to entrap online porn users. Purporting to represent internet sites whose smutty materials had been accessed illegally (and sometimes secretly sharing proprietary interests in the salacious services), they demanded user addresses from ISPs to identify the alleged culprits and persuade them that an out-of-court settlement was the best way to protect their privacy and prevent the exposure of their peculiar interests.
The three doofuses practiced to deceive with a new twist on the badger game, but the web they wove got tangled and they got stuck in it.
A federal judge in California has sanctioned Duffy and associates and referred their names to the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Attorney in Central California, and the state and federal bars in which they practice.
Earlier this year, Circuit Judge Andrew Gleeson ordered Duffy, Steele, et al. to show why they shouldn’t be held in contempt, sanctioned, and obliged to compensate a cable provider for producing the identities of its targeted subscribers.
Now, U.S. District Judge David Herndon has ordered them to make restitution to another of their intended victims.
Herndon also sanctioned Steele and Hansmeier for “contemptuous statements in court.”
Both had previously avoided sanctions by claiming insolvency. Unfortunately for them, the prey that got away was able to demonstrate that the two spider-men had significant unacknowledged assets.
Herndon separately sanctioned Steele and Duffy for obstructing discovery.
Judgments against Duffy, Steele, and Hansmeier are likely to continue, and the web they wove for illicit profit may wind up costing them a bundle. It seems unlikely that any of the three will learn the obvious lessons of their deceptive practices, but perhaps their well-deserved misfortune will serve as a warning to other potential web-weavers.