The CEO of the internet classified prostitution site Backpage.com pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in California on Thursday, while the company itself pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Texas, the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday.
The guilty pleas came one week after the U.S. government shut down the human trafficking forum and a few days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it the “dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex.”
Co-founder Carl Ferrer, 57, admitted that he was well aware that the great majority of Backpage’s “escort” and “adult” advertisements were for prostitution services, the department said in a statement.
In exchange for cooperation in the prosecution of two co-founders of Backpage.com, Ferrer will receive a light sentence of no more than five years in prison. Co-founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin were also charged in a 93-count indictment unsealed on Monday.
The Texas Attorney General’s website called Backpage the “largest online sex trafficking marketplace in the world,” which “facilitated the sex trafficking of innocent women and children through sites it ran for 943 locations in 97 countries and 17 languages.”
According to the website, “it was involved in 73 percent of all child trafficking cases reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”
“Taking down Backpage and obtaining a criminal conviction for the company and its CEO represents a significant victory in the fight against human trafficking in Texas and around the world,” Attorney General Paxton said Thursday.
“I want to thank the Attorney General of California, the U.S. Department of Justice, federal law enforcement officials, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, and the prosecutors and law enforcement in my office for their outstanding collaborative work on this investigation and prosecution.”
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it is happening in our own backyard,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the plea deal. “The shutdown of Backpage.com is a tremendous victory for the survivors and their families. And the conviction of CEO Ferrer is a game-changer in combating human trafficking in California, indeed worldwide.”
Backpage, a site frequently involved with human trafficking cases in Maryland and across the country, seized by federal authorities. More info at 6 PM, notice says pic.twitter.com/fR5sqeAhZQ
— Justin Fenton (@justin_fenton) April 6, 2018
In recent days, Women’s March organizers and other liberals and libertarians have decried the federal seizure and shutdown of Backpage.com, calling it “an absolute crisis for sex workers” in a statement posted on their Twitter account. “Sex workers rights are women’s rights,” the Women’s March tweeted.
. The shutting down of #Backpage is an absolute crisis for sex workers who rely on the site to safely get in touch with clients. Sex workers rights are women’s rights. Follow @SafeSpacesDC @melissagira @swopusa @KateDAdamo @supporthosechi @anaorsomething for more info. https://t.co/S3Orx3aM8Z
— Women's March (@womensmarch) April 7, 2018
Keep in mind that this same organization banned a pro-life group from participating in their March on Washington in January of 2017.
A U.S. Senate subcommittee report in January 2017 accused Backpage of “knowingly facilitating online sex trafficking” by automatically removing words and phrases like “lolita,” “teenage,” “little girl” and “rape” to hide their posts from law enforcement.
Congress recently passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), targeting sites like Backpage. President Donald Trump signed the act into law on Wednesday.