Backpage CEO pleads guilty, agrees to cooperate in prosecution against site's founders

Sex website CEO pleads guilty in Sacramento to money laundering in Backpage case | The Sacramento Bee

Sex website CEO pleads guilty in Sacramento to money laundering in Backpage case | The Sacramento Bee

The founders of Backpage.com, which was shut down by the federal government last week, have been charged with knowingly facilitating prostitution-related crimes through the website, as well as money laundering, according to an indictment unsealed in federal court on Monday.

As part of the plea agreement, the site also plead guilty to federal money laundering charges in Arizona, while Ferrer plead guilty to a federal conspiracy charge.

Larkin and Lacey remain jailed in Arizona while awaiting hearings on whether they should be released after pleading not guilty to federal charges alleging they helped publish ads for sexual services.

Those two have been charged with facilitating prostitution and money laundering.

Although the pair sold their interests in Backpage in 2015, the indictment said they had since "retained significant control over the website", receiving tens of millions of dollars.

In his plea agreement, Ferrer also admitted that he conspired with other Backpage principals to engage in various money laundering offenses. Lacey and Jim Larkin, former Phoenix New Times execs, founded Backpage.

Calling it the "largest online sex trafficking marketplace in the world", Paxton said Backpage facilitated the sex trafficking of innocent women and children at 943 locations in 97 countries and 17 languages. A single-image notice, indicating a seizure by the FBI and other federal agencies, is all that remains of the site.

The National Association of Attorneys General said in a 2011 letter that it had tracked more than 50 instances in 22 states over three years of charges filed against those who have trafficked or attempted to traffic minors on Backpage.

Attorney General Paxton has made combating human trafficking a top priority. The U.S. Justice Department also seized and shut down the website used to prominently advertise escorts and massages, among other services and some goods for sale.

Texas state agents raided the Dallas headquarters of Backpage and arrested Ferrer on a California warrant after he arrived at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport on a flight from Amsterdam on October 6, 2016.

"Such editing did not, of course, change the essential nature of the illegal service being offered in the ad - it was merely meant to create a veneer of deniability for Backpage".

Supporters hailed the passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) as a major victory.

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials have always been working to crack down on the website, which was used primarily to sell sex and was the second largest classified ad service in the United States after Craigslist. The announcement came one day after President Donald Trump signed bipartisan legislation targeting online sex trafficking and granting states broader ability to crack down on sex traffickers.

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