Backpage.com, CEO Plead Guilty to Texas Human Trafficking Charges

Backpage shutdown puts sex workers at risk

Backpage.com has been under investigation for years for claims that the site facilitates sex trafficking on their adult ads page. It also executed a search warrant on the Dallas headquarters of Backpage, uncovering evidence that was critical in building a case against Ferrer and the company.

"For far too long, Backpage.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike", Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

The "sex worker's rights are women's rights" slogan, was challenged by critics, however, who felt that rallying for legal prostitution essentially argues that sex work is an inherent part of being a female.

Under his plea agreement, Ferrer agreed to make the company's data available to law enforcement as investigations and prosecutions continue.

Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer pleaded guilty to human trafficking in three states.

Ferrer stood with attorney Nanci Clarence for the brief hearing before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown.

Last week, Backpage began displaying a message saying the federal government had seized the website.

State prosecutors changed tack previous year, filing almost 40 new money laundering charges against Ferrer, Larkin and Lacey.

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The federal plea deal says any prison sentence Ferrer would face would run concurrent with his 5-year terms in Texas and California.

Maggy Krell, a former assistant attorney general in California and lawyer who worked on the case, says that the recent pleas and indictments could be a major turning point. Ferrer's name did not appear in that indictment.

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. Additionally, the business pleaded guilty to human trafficking. This comes less than a week after the attorney general's office assisted the Department of Justice with permanently shutting down the website.

The plea agreement provides that, if Ferrer fails to comply with either of these requirements, the plea agreement shall be null and void and the United States may bring additional charges against Ferrer. He has also agreed to testify against other website officials.

"I'm pleased that Congress has taken additional steps by passing my SESTA legislation to let sex trafficking victims seek justice and allow state and local law enforcement to swiftly prosecute websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws", Portman said.

Ferrer was arrested at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston in October 2016 after arriving on a flight from Amsterdam, accused of running a "pimping conspiracy".

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. "There is no one in the entire world who made more money off sex trafficking than the owners of this website", she said.

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