A “defendant” in a Guava sham lawsuit has admitted that he was blackmailed into participating in a fraud

It was obvious that a rash of CFAA cases filed in state courts by Prenda con artists — Guava v. Skylar Case (Cook county, IL), Guava v. Spencer Merkel (Hennepin county, MN), and Arte de Oaxaca v. Stacey Mullen (Cook county, IL) — were sham lawsuits that employed the same scheme:

  • Find a poor guy or girl who was “caught” either breaking copyright law by sharing copyrighted material (pornography) using Bittorent protocol, or accessing a pornography paysite using stolen credentials. And by “caught” I don’t mean that his or her IP address was simply recorded by a purported forensic expert, such as Peter Hansmeier and his unregistered, illegitimate company “6881 Forensics,” or Steve “Lightspeed” Jones’ “Arcadia Security” with its few scripts that parse server logs and produce mind-bogging amount of false positives (link NSFW). I mean solid evidence, namely admission of the wrongdoing.
  • Threaten him/her with insanely huge fines and expensive lawsuit that he or she has no means to afford.
  • Offer a deal: this poor chap plays a defendant in a state court lawsuit filed on behalf of a fake company and agrees to sign his consent to subpoena multiple ISPs to unmask thousands of Internet users, whose IP addresses may or may not have been recorded by the fake “experts” mentioned above. As a payback, this “defendant “will not pay anything and will be quietly dismissed later. Judges in underfunded county courts are happy when defendant and plaintiff agree on something, and endorse such agreements, sometimes without reading them.
  • Get the personal information of those thousands, many (probably the majority) of whom are innocent of any wrongdoing, and shake them down using the widely known protocols of harassment, baseless threats and lies.

While these “agreed orders” raised many eyebrows (including those of Judge Tailor), up to this point we did not have a smoking gun, and judges don’t like conspiracy theories, no matter how plausible they are.

Things have changed today in a dramatic manner: Spencer Merkel, a “defendant” in the Minnesota case, filed a damning affidavit through his attorney, exposing the brazen fraud:


This affidavit has surfaced during today’s hearing on motions to quash. John Steele appeared in person, probably hoping to save the case by dismissing those who filed motions, as he did in Chicago. No luck. Judge Tanya Bransford initially dismissed the complaint on the wrong jurisdiction grounds, but ultimately took the issue under advisement with the caveat that she will probably dismiss the complaint (and I hope will refer the fraudsters to the Bar and AG).

The house of cards built by the crooks (Paul and Peter Hansmeier, John Steele, Paul Duffy, Brett Gibbs, Michael Dugas) suddenly collapsed, implicating both the known scam artists and “defense” attorneys — Adam Urbanzcyk, Bernard Fuhs and Jennifer Dukarski.

The two latter attorneys represent another possibly fake defendant in a federal case AF Holdings v. Ciccone (MIED 12-cv-14442). Apparently, Prenda, not being slapped on the wrist and emboldened by a relative success, decided to pull the same trick on the federal level. I did not report on this, but both DieTrollDie and Rob Cashman did. This case is a hot spot now — after two excellent motions were filed by attorneys John Hermann and Eric Grimm (documents 22 and 33).

Note that I do not imply that two Michigan defense attorneys colluded with Prenda. I don’t have enough information to make such serious allegations. As for Adam Urbanczyk, the benefit of doubt we gave him has depleted long time ago.

Individual vindictive and vexatious Guava cases filed across the nation won’t survive the Minneapolis blast either: Booth Sweet has already filed a request for judicial notice of Merlkel’s affidavit in the Guava v. John Doe case (MAD 12-cv-11880), which I covered recently.

Now the ball is in the hands of Attorney General and FBI. We’ll see if they finally realize the depth of Prenda’s criminal activities and its impact on the society.

Funny fact: sometime next week I planned a post — an appeal to all the three defendants in Prenda’s CFAA cases to go forward and report the fraud upon the court to the authorities (assuming that those three poor souls did not realize that they are on the hook for criminal charges). Prenda’s bottomless greed (mixed with sloppiness) ended up working in place of my planned appeal. It is beyond comprehension why the crooks started threatening a cooperating patsy. Well, I don’t have to write this appeal anymore, which frees up my time to report on a couple of similarly big news (and I have a t least two in the queue).

There is more than one event happened today in the same building, albeit not in a courtroom but in an elevator. But it is a different story. Stay intrigued.




I have just obtained a document that sheds some light on one of the reasons behind Spencer Merkel’s decision to go forward. The fraud was first reported to the court on Tuesday 1/22/2013, when a couple of ISPs filed a joint support document embedded below. It does not add much to what is said above, except maybe a suggestion that Mr. Merkel’s attorney Trina Morrison was not an active participant in the scheme, but was rather fooled by Prenda and initially was not even aware of the fraudulent “deal.”



On 11/9/2016 Dugas was reprimanded (and ordered to pay $900) by the Minnesota Supreme Court:

[…] Michael Kevin Dugas committed professional misconduct warranting public discipline—namely, colluding with others to bring a lawsuit for the sole purpose of conducting discovery to find the identity of others against whom claims could be made, initiating the lawsuit in bad faith, and making false and misleading statements during the proceedings.

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86 responses to ‘A “defendant” in a Guava sham lawsuit has admitted that he was blackmailed into participating in a fraud

  1. Ok, I’ve read the original compliant which is a joke — but just doing some mental math here:

    Prenda finds someone in the HDP case who wants to settle but doesn’t have the money, so they offer the role of a patsy.

    (Not even considering the ethics and possible laws broken by acquiring such a patsy)

    The case is filled by Guava LLC, who probably doesn’t even exist, and new people are lumped into the suit for the sole purpose of acquiring new names.

    The big question is whose content does Guava LLC represent… is it a reborn Hard Drive Productions? or even worse for Prenda is it something totally different.

    FINALLY – the least shocking part – is once again Prenda’s ineptitude. They forget to remove the guy from the harass list…. he gets a call… he gets spooked, and now he’s a whistle blower.

    That being said I don’t feel too bad for Mr. Merkel. Maybe he didn’t understand what he was doing but he was trying to save his ass by offering up thousands of others. Plus he did no research at all, which would have lead him to not talk to their lawyers.

    Just wow… I wonder if Paul Pilcher at HDP knows about Guava?

    • As I mentioned awhile back Guava is a repository for Prenda’s clients, Lightspeed and HDP (possibly others like CP Productions) who feel the need to hide behind a facade and attempt a new twist on an old scam.

      • Adam U wrote:

        Guava, LLC, as we know it, is a rights-holding company and the case pending in the Circuit Court of Cook County is somewhat of a spiritual successor to the infamous 11-L-0683 Lightspeed Media case filed late last year in St. Clair County, Illinois. It is our understanding that Prenda’s experience with Lightspeed Media’s representatives being personally identified and threatened as a result of the lawsuits (the 11-L-0683 case, and others) has led to its clients forming these even more ambiguously-titled entities to (relatively) save face.

  2. Wait a minute, I’m new to all of this bittorrent stuff. But if you had to have an account to download off of Cheggit that you signed up for, then the tracker I think would be private, right?

    So wouldn’t they have been participating in private swarms and had to also have an account and therefor participating in the swarm?

    • And wait another minute, isn’t it slightly at least a little bit unethical or at least a conflict of interest for the plaintiff to recommend an attorney…?

    • I’m not sure how bit torrent really works either with but wikipedia says:

      Almost all private trackers implement a passkey system, where each user is given a personalized announce URL so if there is unauthorized distribution, it can be pinpointed to the user responsible.

      So, they would have had to be a member.

  3. Of course they had an account. While it will never be proven, I am fairly certain most of these files were uploaded by the trolls in order to harvest victims.

  4. Now, I’m no psychic, but all I see are sua sponte sanctions headed toward Dugas and Morrison like an unstoppable freight train along with at the very least, suspension of their licenses to practice law.

      • I don’t want to make any conclusions regarding Trina Morrison. I received hints from two credible people interdependently: they suggested that she may be fooled by Prenda and not aware of the “deal,” at least initially. If it is so, I by no means wish her a bad luck.

        • Actually I’m currently reading a damn good document, and it is a fact that Merkel made a “deal” prior to her retainer. Will publish soon.

        • Well, sua sponte sanctions headed Dugas’s way then. What I really want to head his way is an FBI tactical team 🙂

        • I do wish her well, and will assume she’s just another victim of the scam – she may have indeed unintentionally and unwittingly stepped into some nasty nasty stuff. Point is though, one needs to do their homework in advance when touching anything related to these and copyright trolls – wonder if she even knew who referred the client to her and why – that would have been the tip off that trouble was ahead if it was at all apparent how the client was referred to her and by whom. *** Perhaps this is an opportunity for her to put the legal shaft to Prenda and their clients in a bad bad way. ***

  5. And before Guava v Merkel, we speculated that Skyler Case in Guava v Case and Stacey Mullen in Arte de Oaxaca v Mullen were both patsies on the take to out “co-conspirators” in exchange for something. Adam Urbanczyk….I hope you have plenty of lube for your part in those two Cook County scams!

    That explains why we couldn’t find a Skyler Case in Cook Co. I bet we can find him (or her) in addition to Stacey Mullen somewhere else…MAYBE IN OREGON???

    Lastly, we’ve seen a settlement draft posted where a Doe was being released from Guava and Lightspeed simultaneously, making us 99.999% sure that Guava = Lightspeed. So with this Guava / Merkel fraud in Minnesota now in the open, how long before the blow back of this hits Steve Jones?

    • Oh someone posted here that they called Prenda and asked them wtf was going on (about the Guava case) and was told that it had something to do with “an movie called MaeLynn” (I’m paraphrasing but the idiot at Prenda did state that it has something to do with HDP. Pilcher has gotta be shitting his pants. Just how fucking stupid is he? First, he does this mass Doe shit, gets schooled by Yuen. Then, one of his contract employees gets cracked by the FBI in a kiddie porn sting. All the while, the AZ AG has been chomping at the bit to go after these scumbags. So what’s the logical route here? “Pilcher Logic” (99.9999% chance he was convinced by Steele to pull another dumbass stunt that backfired) dictates you create a bullshit corporation (or just create it on paper), have your lackey, moron attorneys overtly coerce a Doe defendant into a very very very fucked up and illegal quid pro quo agreement to drop the settlement demand (and lawsuit threats…but, that didn’t happen, oops!) if they agree to be a defendant in a case and hand over their computer for “forensic analysis” and sue a bunch of bittorrent downloaders for CFAA violations which is pure conjecture considering the stuff that ended up on the site may have been downloaded and initially seeded by a paying member of the site. They didn’t go after the initial seeder, obviously. This guy isn’t even a forum defendant either. He lives in Oregon, HDP is in AZ, the lawsuit is in the State of Minnesota (state court, not federal). The Court has ZERO jurisdiction.

      I’m using the “WAG” (wild ass guess) model here, but I’m gonna predict that both Case and Mullen are Does in other cases who were dismissed w/ prejudice in exchange for entering into an (unenforceable, unethical, and downright illegal) contract to agree to be a defendant in a case, with the plaintiff being some concocted load of shit that doesn’t even exist as far as any of us can tell or is some foreign corporation.

      • It appears that is the case…in this case. Too overloaded to realize they fucked up and didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Congrats to all of the idiots at Prenda, you’ve managed to turn from “pretty fucked” (Alan Cooper) to “REALLY fucked” (this) in a matter of months. Shit happens when lawyers have an unmanageable caseload 🙂

  6. No way this is an isolated incident, this is a strategy and every Guava and Oaxaca case is likely built on one of these plants. That means Adam Urbanczyk has some ‘splainin’ to do, as the judge in a case he’s defending was already suspicious he was colluding with Steele and now we know Prenda is colluding with “defendants.”

    This on the same day as the revelation that John Steele’s previous career was running a student loan scam. It was on SJD’s Twitter earlier, I think there was some uncertainty over whether it’s really our John Steele, but I found an additional complaint that mentions a John L. Steele as owner of the scam:

    This guy is more disgusting than even we thought.

  7. What would this mean for all the Guava cases that are pending or ongoing? I am currently one of the alleged co conspirators’ IP in the Guava vs Comcast petition.

    • Once Doe defenders get ahold of this affidavit, Guava cases will be fucking dead as hell. Prenda attorneys will be lucky if they don’t end with sua sponte Rule 11 sanctions and disciplinary action by the District and every single State Bar they’re admitted to. And I’m not even gonna get into the criminal aspect of this…hint, it’s very very bad for them…ALL of them.

    • Yeah, he must have sobered up (again) and realized a porn star tweeting about being on the set with”bittorrentbull” and some other dude wasn’t good for a married man (Steele). His liver must be the size of TX. How is he still allowed to practice law is beyond me. The world would be no poorer if he just ceased to exist.

      • Well, remember, John Steele is NOT, I say again NOT bittorrentbull.

        I mean, its just a coincidence that bitorrentbull, who is NOT John Steele, was on the set of a porn movie which is what his law firm represents, right?

        /end sarcasm

      • Even more so, tweets like that* are very NOT GOOD for @bittorrentbull (Steele) in that…

        It shows that the crook is now clearly involved at the very root of the scam. Directly involved in the MAKING of the smut that is soon to be licensed to AF Holdings or Ingenuity 13 or (insert new sham offshore LLC name here.) Soon this newly produced smut will have a registered copyright, and be immediately seeded into honeypot torrents, and immediately monitored by the seeder (6881 Forensics LLC, or whatever they will call themselves since they cannot be found to be officially a licensed business either) for (OMG!, Copyright Infringement!)

        One thing that will be missing in the fraud scheme is the ability to actually purchase the smut, but the courts never check that. Nor do they ever verify the true existence of any of the LLCs, or personally subpoena to hearings their fabricated CEOs (for example, all together now, say “Alan Cooper.”)

        Then of course the scam is really ready to roll by the “Forensics” LLC’s harvesting of innocent account holders IP addresses – Account holders that were unfortunate enough to be victimized because they either a) ran open WiFi routers (often set up that way by their ISP’s) or b) they themselves or their ISPs set up their routers with WEP (crackable in about 3 minutes by any wifi interloper who can spend 30 minute searching google & learn how to exploit it.) Now, with a bunch of harvested IP addresses (that do not = people, but trolls care not) the Trolls go to work with the lawsuits that we are so familiar with.

        The point of all of this…

        It shows that Steele is working to own the entire operation: Production of the smut all the way to extortion of the innocent. And with sham LLCs, which he also runs via invented/stolen identities, forged signatures, contrived agreements lacking any traceability such as certifications or notary seals, etc etc… Producer, copyright holder, IP-address-harvester, client, counsel – all in one neat sack.

        (*) p.s John Steal [sic intentional] (since I know you troll the blogs too) rest assured that every single one of your drunken @bittorrentbull tweets, along with the one mentioned above, have been neatly and properly screen captured for use at the sweetest possible moment. We all eagerly await your drunken retort.

        • Do you have the screen captrue of the Tweet where he said he was at gordan ramsy steak house with lutz??? Please let me know.

        • No screen shot at my end (would not know how) and I do not recall any mention of Lutz in that tweet. Fun fact now that AFH is hitting the fan, as an earlier incarnation (@thebull ?) I asked him if AF Holdings was short hand for Absolutely Fraudulent Holdings. His reply was along the lines of: Always Fucking pirates or some similar nonsense.

  8. Does anyone know if it would do any good to try to send this to Judge Tailor in the Cook County case a la DTD Torpedo?

    I assume I’d have to find out the civil filing procedures first or something. But do any of you that have more knowledge on the topic know if it would do any good? Only because Tailor already asked if AU and Duffy were in bed together.

  9. One more question here. In all of the complaints I’ve read they always say, “Jurisdiction is proper because x, y, z” and x is usually that John Doe lives in Cook County.

    So…if they sued Merkel in MN and he lives in OR…how could that suit even be brought in the first place when Merkel is not in MN?

    • The “100% accurate” (according to Steele in a ~2011 interview) software used by Hansmeier and his bullshit company. I CANNOT find ANY record of 6881 Forensics, LLC anywhere, so I’d venture to say that, much like Guava, 6881 Forensics does not exist or it is a pseudonym.

      • Maybe its me, but on page 4 it seems as if Ms. Morrison knew what was going on but did nothing to stop it. The “agreed to drop copyright infringement….in exchange Mr. Merkel would agree to be a defendant…would not seek any remedies”

        • It sounds like it’s possible she found out what was going on and informed the Qwest attorneys. It is pretty clear that dumbass Merkel made the deal before he retained her services, then the Qwest reply, on page 4 says that Morrison contacted them and informed them of the deal. Seems like there is a possibility that she found out and flipped out, and informed opposing counsel to avoid her potential liability from being implicated in the fraud. Admitting to fraud is not exactly the normal choice for Prenda affiliates, and it would be consistent with the behavior of an attorney who is not crooked and just discovered they may be caught in the middle of a scam.

          Why she might not have known up front is not clear—maybe Prenda specifically told the guy not to tell his attorney, or he just didn’t say anything and then he got scared or pissed after they kept trying to settle and came clean?

          But his affidavit doesn’t mention being instructed to cover it up and that seems like it would be awfully relevant information as long as he is ratting Prenda out.

          The one thing that is extremely suspicious is that the affidavit does say Morrison was recommended by Prenda. That just reeks of them planting their goons on both sides, but hopefully the Attorney General’s office or FBI will get to the bottom of it.

          Once again it’s fun to see Prenda screw up even their handpicked, showcase scams. They really couldn’t manage to check this guy off their harassment list? When Steele was tweeting about making deals with Does in exchange for selling out their defense attorneys I thought he was just being an ass. This isn’t quite the same thing but the guy really was and is that stupid.

  10. They should call him Spencer “Double Dive” Merkel. Having taken a dive once, in the Guava vs. Merkel case, with the help of his alleged take-a-dive attorney, he now takes a second dive, admitting his guilt even as all those cable subscribers get ready to sue him. Also, unless he has an immunity deal with the US attorney, that affidavit will be admissible in his criminal case.

    • While Merkel’s affidavit clearly advances the public interest, and is laudable for that reason, if you were advising Mr. Merkel (and you only had his interests in mind) would you have advised him to sign it? Why or why not?

  11. Yet they still keep keepin on. eels are very very slippery. Damn near impossible to catch, no matter how many times they reveal themselves. Makes you wonder if the reason why they have not been crushed yet is because high powers want them to continue in order for the internet to be a more “controlled” place.

  12. i have wanted to punch these asshats in the face since i first got my isp letter claiming me to be a hacker. i am glad to see them openly fumbling their plays and cannot wait to see the day when they get fully and permanently destroyed.

  13. From the Ars Technica article ( “When we asked Pietz about Merkel’s allegations in a Friday interview, he declined to comment on whether such an arrangement would be ethical. But he noted that “federal courts have a requirement that there be an actual controversy” for a lawsuit to occur.”

    So does anyone around here know whether this would be a violation of ethics or not? I mean we all know its shady, but is it actually something they can lose their license over?

  14. In the Ars article ( it says that Pietz refused to comment whether or not getting Merkel to cooperate was ethical or not.

    Does anyone know whether it is indeed unethical? As in losing one’s license unethical. Or is it just kind of something that shouldn’t be done but nothing will happen if you get caught type of things?

  15. I decided to do some research. It appears that Cheggit was a membership site which you had to sign up for. And based on some circumstantial evidence and forum posts, members were require to maintain a certain ratio.

    For example, I found this on one forum post: “This is one of the best torrent sites for porn, but I downloaded too much and didn’t share enough so they limited my account to seed only. The problem is I can’t make a new account and even when I use one of those anonymous web proxy sites they still manage to block the IP.”

    And since in the complaints they always say they download the file (they have to download the whole because the part does nothing at all) they have to have been seeding as well or else they would lose their ratio.

    Doesn’t that give more credence to the idea of it all being a honeypot scam?

    • It seems as though they didn’t have any actual real time evidence, all they had were “forensic investigations” of computers from members of the site. And the site shut down when? Not recently. So, they’re parsing through uTorrent logs (who’s dumb enough to log their software piracy activities anyway?) and find IPs here, there, sue this IP, sue that IP. It explains why they subpoenaed like 350+ ISPs in the original Crook County Guava case.

      • And the way they probably got those logs (even though they didn’t seem to get them from Spencer Merkel) would be from Skylar Case and Stacey Mullen?

        Because I’m baffled as to how they could have gotten them any other way. And it appears that Cheggit, again circumstantial evidence via forum posts (I searched for “cheggit closed”), was in January of last year. Which kind of seems to fit the time frame. Which is closed after a week long downtime or something.

        I’m still confused as to how they got Skylar Case’s and Stacey Mullen’s identity initially to get those logs if they weren’t part of the site.

        Right now I can think of three things:

        1) So ultra conspiracy theory that I don’t put much stock into, Steele et. al. hack Cheggit, get IPs, find Case and Mullen and get logs? Then file the suit in June after getting some people to cooperate.

        2a) Or else they could have gotten them from one of their previous cases? I’m still new, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about them getting evidence in any of the cases. So it seems unlikely they got it off of someone who had their drives analyzed.

        2b) It seems most likely, I suppose, that Case/Mullen were part of the HDP (or another) suit. Then they called up and had the same experience as Merkel. And they actually did turn over logs of some sort.

        Again, the problem as TAD pointed out, is it seems highly unlikely that 6 months or so later the logs are readily available.

        This post probably makes no sense, its all stream of consciousness at the moment.

        • I’m just wondering who’d be stupid enough to actually check the “Log” box in their torrent client. AFAIK clients do not log by default….gee I wonder why.

          The supposition here is that Case and Mullen are both “former” HDP defendants, and by “former” I mean they agreed to sell out tens of thousands of people who are very likely innocent in return for covering their own asses and being instrumental in the perpetuation of a gargantuan fraud upon the judicial system of Cook County.

          Trackers throw out fake IPs. It’s a well-known fact. How can they differentiate between fake and real IPs when all they have are raw text files of activity? I know the answer, they can’t. They can’t even do it in real time, or at least not very accurately based on the amount of false positives they get.

          Then there’s the issue of spoilage. 6+ month old text files full of, well, numbers (IPs, dates, and times), sitting on a hard drive, oh I can’t see what could go wrong with that if that’s actually the case.

      • can anyone else whos isp was sent a subpeona in the guava v merkel case share for which date range guava wanted and which your isp said was assigned to you?

        • Mine just says October 18, 2012, was no where near adult websites or downloaded a movie or adult movie during that time, who knows how the assume the IP.

        • It was assumed by most that the Guava suits were a hodge podge of old AZ pornogrpher lawsuits masquerading as new. For example we know Lightspeed Media Corp., Hard Drive Productions and, possibly, CP Productions are hiding behind the Guava facade. The personal identifying information, it was thought, was obtained in previous lawsuits such as the LMC state suits in IL, the HDP federal suit in DCD as well as the state pure bill of discovery suits in FL. Now, however, the alleged infringement/hacking date of October 2012 puts these assumptions at risk of being partially wrong.

  16. This is if nothing else a great opportunity for Adam Urbanczyk to show he has his clients’ best interests in mind. Filing a copy of Merkel’s affidavit in the cases he is “defending” is a no-brainer move that costs him nothing but postage (probably not even that with ECF), so if Adam is actually trying to defend his clients, we can assume that this document will appear in his filings without delay.

  17. so should i still seek legal advice or just wait for this to be dismissed? i received a letter and a phone call (somehow they got my name and IP from my ISP without letting me know) and was ‘threatened’ with more action if i do not respond by this Friday 2/8. Just want to make sure i am all set.

    thanks everyone for all the information and advice. invaluable.

    • Depending on your comfort level, you could retain an attorney to act as a shield, or settle – which is really just paying them to stop sending you letters/calling you, as there is a less than 1% chance you’ll be named based on history.

      I personally am going the route of riding out the storm, filing the letters away, and blocking their numbers so I don’t have to hear from them. They’re nothing but loud barking dogs, and even when they do name people, their cases have never won on merits because they have no case…not worth wasting your money in my non-legal-advice-opinion.

      • Prenda overall (mostly AF Holdings, a fake plaintiff) is indeed ~1%, but Guava-style CFAA cases is less ( < 0.1% ) and "safer" to ignore. Plenty of explanations why (in the comments).

    • @SJD What do you mean when you say
      “I mean solid evidence, namely admission of the wrongdoing.”

      are you talking about naming the evidence aka the film?

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