is an attorney from Jacksonville, Florida. Those who follow the news concerning copyright trolling phenomenon, know him as an author of popular self-help forms
for alleged file-sharers, which included, a motion for protective order, a motion to dismiss, an affidavit of defenses, and a template for a motion to quash a subpoena issued to ISP. It’s not a surprise that many trolls attacked
Mr. Syfert, which only shows that he hit the nerve. Graham states that he doesn’t defend pirates, and respects copyright law, but genuinely despises trolls’ extortion-like “business”, and he continues to help many trolls’ victims. He was the source of this story.
1. The move to Sunny Florida
John L Steele
Back in August 2011, we first heard that John Steele filed a change of address in many of his federal cases, moving to a Miami address. “Steele|Hansmeier, PLLC” now had offices in Florida and in Illinois, but no one in the firm was admitted to practice law in Florida. Despite that, Mark Lutz, the paralegal for Steele|Hansmeier at that time, was placing calls from Florida, and soon their letter writing operation got underway from their Lincoln Avenue, Miami address. Before this move John Steele’s divorce law office was in downtown Chicago.
At that time, none of demand letters, now coming from his Lincoln Avenue address, stated where John Steele was licensed to practice. The practice of letter writing of this kind by an unlicensed attorney is unethical, but apparently not anywhere near as big of a deal as an Illinois attorney opening up a branch office in Miami without having any attorneys licensed in Florida. Graham Syfert, annoyed with the phone calls from out-of-state attorneys and clients asking him how John Steele was practicing in Florida, filed the first bar complaint of his legal career, against John Steele, partner of Steele|Hansmeier for opening a law firm in Florida without a license.
It may have been pure coincidence, but sometime around the time Graham filed his bar complaint, a new name of a Florida licensed attorney began showing up on the letterhead of Steele|Hansmeier on Florida’s demand letters, that of Robert Balzebre, a Florida licensed attorney who seems to run a hotel. They also, around that time, changed the signatures of their demand letters to include in what states they are licensed to practice. We can only imagine that they believed that the solution to jumping the gun on the Steele|Hansmeier Miami branch office was to add a Florida partner.
On October 20th, 2011, a short while after the bar complaint was filed, a new company was formed, with Kerry Steele, Mr. Steele’s wife, at the head. The address was the same office as the old Steele|Hansmeier location at 1111 Lincoln Road, Suite 400, Miami Beach, FL 33139. The name of the business was Miami Beach Consulting, Inc. This company is now dissolved. (A month earlier Kerry Steele was reported as working in her husband’s Chicago divorce law firm, Family Law Lifeline, as a manager. No doubt, Mrs. Steele got many talents previously attributed only to Julius Caesar.)
2. The end of Steele|Hansmeier, and the beginning of Prenda Law
On November 7, 2011, Prenda Law was incorporated in Chicago, Illlinois, with Paul Duffy at the head; on the next day, Prenda Law was incorporated in Florida, also with Paul Duffy at the head. This is atypical: normally, the Florida attorney would be listed as the officer, and by all means he should be listed instead of Duffy. Steele|Hansmeier vanished from the scene for a while. There was talk of John Steele’s retirement in Florida.
On November 14th, 2011, about two months after the bar complaint was filed, John Steele, perhaps because of Graham’s bar complaint or perhaps coincidence, was requested to sign an affidavit of no unlicensed practice of law in Florida.
This is becoming a tradition: you may remember, as it was widely reported in the news, recently a copyright troll associated with Copyright Enforcement Group, Terik Hashmi, was caught practicing law in Florida without license after he signed the exactly same type of affidavit, which has opened him to criminal prosecution.
Sometime near November 15th, 2011, Prenda Law took over the Miami office, and began filing pure bill of discovery cases in Florida. Such cases were already being filed by Keith Lipscomb of Libscomb, Eisenberg & Baker PL by that time.
Steele|Hansmeier was dissolved on January 13 2012. Prenda Law took its place, and appears to be a interstate partnership between Florida licensed attorney Joseph Perea and Illinois (as well as DC) licensed attorney Paul Duffy. Prenda Law employs many attorneys in obtaining John Doe information, all over the country. They write letters today, and still fail to include some of this basic information that might help determine where they are licensed to practice.
Prenda Law has started to e-mail their demand letters, from the Florida office in Miami, and those demand letters contain the name of a Florida licensed attorney Joseph Perea. These e-mails, are being sent by a Mark Lutz, a paralegal in Florida, who was featured in the Mark Lutz Remix. During the winter, Prenda had previously requested payments sent to their offices in Miami, and are now asking for ransom money to be sent to Prenda Law at John Steele’s office at 161 North Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois. Confusing! Even more confusing is that Paul Duffy’s office not at 161 North Clark Street: it is across downtown in a different high rise at 2 N. LaSalle. John Steele’s office, however, is confirmed to be in 161 North Clark Street. Perhaps the letter writing operation has stayed down south, but the money collecting operation has moved up north! Like birds, for the summer, headed north. They seem to be hovering back and forth between Chicago and Miami.
There is plenty of evidence out there regarding recent filings of John Steele being located in 161 North Clark St.
Graham was not wanting to speak regarding any more current events except the recent change in demand letter, and would only state,
I am again being bothered by people from out of state who cannot tell if they are dealing with an Illinois matter, a Florida matter, or a D.C. matter, and I hope something changes soon with this business model, or at least their letterhead. Or, maybe you can just get this story out there so that the people who receive these strange demand letters will have some idea of what is going on.
I want to conclude with my usual advice, which is applicable in 99% of cases:
- Don’t pay these clowns. I understand it is very scary in the beginning, but take your time to get educated: you’ll thank yourself for not succumbing to fears and saving your money, starving the troll in the process.
- If you can afford a lawyer, hire a lawyer. Not any lawyer, but one with a good heart and lots of experience with troll cases. This is a much better use of your money than paying a ransom. Trolls want to convince you that fighting is more expensive than settling. Not always true. Do your research: many lawyers charge very reasonable fees. If you can’t afford a lawyer, sit tight and don’t let this scam derail your life; unless a virtually improbable event of serving you with summons happens, there is no reason to worry.
- Don’t talk to trolls: it is dangerous. Don’t overestimate your ability to keep potentially self-incriminating information to yourself: crooks have perfected the art of provocation; you never know which words will be used against you. Refer the caller to your lawyer or give a minimal response. Don’t answer any questions.
- There are valid reasons to settle: for example, if dragging your name through the dirt can jeopardize your employment or marriage. In this case, if you are resolved to pay no matter how you despise feeding the troll, hire a lawyer to assist you. Don’t settle on your own: you will be scammed.