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posted by janrinok on Sunday October 09 2016, @01:56AM   Printer-friendly
from the now-prove-it dept.

Backpage, an online classified advertising website, has had its offices in Dallas, Texas raided. The CEO was arrested in Texas on a California warrant, and two others have also been charged with crimes related to the operation of the website:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and California Attorney General Kamala Harris said that a three-year-long joint investigation revealed that adult and child sex trafficking victims were forced into prostitution through escort ads that appear on the web site. They also alleged that Ferrer and shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin made millions of dollars from illegal sex trade.

Ferrer faces charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping, while Lacey and Larkin face conspiracy to commit pimping charges. Lacey and Larkin were not in custody on Thursday, and it was not immediately clear when Ferrer would make his first court appearance. Undercover officers in California posted escort ads online that led them to johns who used Backpage, and authorities interviewed more than a half dozen sex trafficking victims who confirmed they paid Backpage to post ads on the web site promoting prostitution.

[...] In addition to its adult services ads, Backpage also publishes advertising from people renting apartments, selling a car or advertising a job opening. But the company's internal revenue reports show that from January 2013 to March 2015, nearly 99% of Backpage's worldwide income was generated from the web site's "adult" section, according to charging documents filed in California. The company collected over $51 million revenue in California during that period.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a Chicago-area Sheriff who was ordered by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to stop threatening credit card companies that do business with Backpage. A month ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily blocked a Congressional subpoena into the site's operations on First Amendment grounds.

Law enforcement officials around the country have complained about prostitution (especially that of children) facilitated by Backpage for years. Now California and Texas officials will have to prove that Backpage's seemingly hands-off approach is illegal. Reason's blog notes that Carl Ferrer is not accused of performing the crimes he has been charged with, but is accused of running a website that others used to facilitate crimes. Backpage also reports ads suspected of containing under-18s to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC's President says the organization applauds the charges and that "the criminal action initiated today will lead to new hope for children who are sold for sex online."

Also at NYT, Dallas News, NBC, CNN, Reuters, and Ars Technica. Redacted California criminal complaint.

The first result in a Google News search for "backpage" is sometimes a randomly placed text ad for their site: "Free classified ads with photos. Find houses and apts for rent, personals, jobs, cats and dogs for sale."

Original Submission   Alternate Submission #1   Alternate Submission #2

Related Stories

Supreme Court Chief Justice Blocks Congressional Subpoena Over First Amendment Rights 45 comments

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday temporarily blocked a congressional subpoena that seeks information on how the classified advertising website screens ads for possible sex trafficking.

The order came hours after Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer asked the high court to intervene, saying the case threatens the First Amendment rights of online publishers.

A federal appeals court ruled 2-1 on Friday that the website must respond to the subpoena within 10 days. Roberts said Backpage does not have to comply with the appeals court order until further action from the Supreme Court.

[...] The Senate panel has tried for nearly a year to force Backpage to produce certain documents as part of its investigation into human trafficking over the Internet.

After the website refused to comply, the Senate voted 96-0 in March to hold the website in contempt.

[...] While Backpage has produced over 16,000 pages of documents responding to the subpoena, Ferrer said documents relating to the website's system for reviewing ads are part of the editorial process protected under the First Amendment.

"This case presents a question of exceptional nationwide importance involving the protection the First Amendment provides to online publishers of third-party content when they engage in core editorial functions," Ferrer said in a brief filed to Roberts.

Original Submission

"Pimping" Charges Against Backpage Executives Dismissed 13 comments

Executives for the online classified advertising website Backpage have seen the charges against them dismissed:

Last month, a California judge tentatively ruled that he would dismiss charges lodged by California's attorney general against's chief executive and two of its former owners. The tables seemed to turn after a November 16 hearing in which Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman decided against following his tentative ruling. But on Friday, the judge issued a final order that virtually mirrored the earlier one: charges dismissed.

[...] Judge Bowman agreed with the defendants, including former owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin, that they were protected, among other things, by the Communications Decency Act, and hence they were not liable for third-party ads posted by others.

"Congress struck a balance in favor of free speech in that Congress did not wish to hold liable online publishers for the action of publishing third-party speech and thus provided for both a foreclosure from prosecution and an affirmative defense at trial. Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this Court, to revisit," the judge initially ruled. Judge Bowman issued nearly the same language (PDF) in his latest ruling: "By enacting the CDA, Congress struck a balance in favor of free speech by providing for both a foreclosure from prosecution and an affirmative defense at trial for those who are deemed an internet service provider."

Previously: Backpage's Dallas Offices Raided, CEO Charged With "Pimping"

Original Submission

After Release of U.S. Senate Report, Backpage Shuts Down U.S. Adult Section 36 comments

Hours after the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report claiming that online classifieds website Backpage "knowingly concealed evidence of criminality by systematically editing its adult ads", Backpage shut down the U.S. adult advertising section of its site:

The online classified advertising site abruptly shut its "adult" section on Monday, yielding to a campaign by state and federal government officials to close a service they contend promotes prostitution and human trafficking. The unexpected move came hours after a U.S. Senate subcommittee released a report accusing Backpage of actively editing posts on the site to remove evidence of child sex trafficking.

In announcing its decision, Backpage said it was the victim of government censorship. Backpage attorneys said executives would appear at a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, but would not testify.

U.S. Senators Rob Portman and Claire McCaskill, however, said their subcommittee found Backpage had been far more complicit in sex trafficking than previously known. "Backpage's response wasn't to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site," they said in a statement. "That's not 'censorship' — it's validation of our findings."

On the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from three sex trafficking victims accusing Backpage of facilitating the exploitation of children. The Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that said Backpage is shielded from liability by federal law since the site's classified ads are posted by users.

Also at Washington Post, NBC, and USA Today.

Previously: Backpage's Dallas Offices Raided, CEO Charged With "Pimping"
"Pimping" Charges Against Backpage Executives Dismissed
California Attorney General Pursues New Charges Against Backpage CEO

Original Submission

FBI Seizes and Affiliates 46 comments

Notorious website has been seized according to NY Daily News.

Sex ads platform was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Friday hours after its founder's Phoenix home was raided.

Visitors to the site landed on a notice from the federal government announcing its seizure.

" and affiliated websites have been seized as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, with analytical assistance from the Joint Regional Intelligence Center," the announcement read.

Founder's home also raided by the FBI Friday morning.

U.S. Government Seizes

The FBI, Justice Department, and other agencies have seized, and one of the co-founders had their home raided:

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by takyon on Sunday October 09 2016, @02:10AM

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday October 09 2016, @02:10AM (#411894) Journal

    AnonTechie [] submission []

    edinlinux [] commentary []:

    Carl Ferrer, the CEO of (an online classified similar to craigslist that also has an 'adult' section in addition to the usual sections for apartment rentals, car sales..etc) was arrested yesterday by California (though he lives in Texas) and extradited for violating California "pimping" laws. The CA attorney general accuses his web site of harboring escorts as well as sex and child traffickers.

    It is an interesting case as the CEO does not live in California (nor is it clear that he has ever been there), and that as the owner of the site he is being held responsible for online postings made by users (rather than the police going after and arresting the actual traffickers themselves in California).

    From the point of view of press freedoms, this would seem to have interesting implications.

    In the case of the consenting untrafficked adult escorts, it is not clear why that should be illegal anyways.. the best way to get rid of trafficking would be to just make prostitution legal like it is in lots of other countries.. tax it, regulate it and go after traffickers when that specifically comes up (which would be pretty rare once the industry is in a legal regulated environment). Same as the approach now being taken with pot legalization and consenting adults.

    Let's see the Electronic Frontier Foundation get involved in this one. Pretty please?

    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 1, Disagree) by Francis on Sunday October 09 2016, @04:48AM

      by Francis (5544) on Sunday October 09 2016, @04:48AM (#411937)

      Why? This is exactly the kind of case that the EFF shouldn't be getting involved with.

      He's being charged in CA because his service does business in CA. He'd be charged in VT or WY if he did things there that the authorities believed violated those respective laws.

      And no, the best way would not be to make prostitution legal. That would just make it trivial for them to hide in broad daylight. If we're serious about fighting trafficking, the correct thing to do is to go after the people who pay for prostitutes and to go after the people who profit off of other people prostituting themselves.

      • (Score: 5, Informative) by takyon on Sunday October 09 2016, @05:04AM

        by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday October 09 2016, @05:04AM (#411941) Journal

        It's a digital liberty case. They are being blamed for crimes linked to user-submitted content.

        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
      • (Score: 5, Insightful) by bradley13 on Sunday October 09 2016, @11:58AM

        by bradley13 (3053) on Sunday October 09 2016, @11:58AM (#412033) Homepage Journal

        And no, the best way would not be to make prostitution legal. That would just make it trivial for them to hide in broad daylight.

        That makes no sense. That's like the Prohibition: in order to prevent drunkenness and to generally improve morality, they made alcohol illegal. The result was utterly counterproductive. In many cities there were more "Speakeasies" during Prohibition than legal bars before or after. Alcohol, being unregulated, became more dangerous - an illegal distillery doesn't care so much if its product contains methanol.

        It's exactly the same for prostitution: If it's illegal, then the people running brothels don't particularly care if they break yet another law by trafficking. Legalize it, and the majority of the people in the industry will make an effort to stay on the right side of the law. This makes it easier to focus enforcement efforts on the genuine crimes.

        Finally: private activities between consenting adults are the business of exactly no one else. First, remember the sodomy laws? [] Do you really want the government regulating your sex life? Second, where exactly do you draw the line in prostitution? If you buy a woman dinner, and she sleeps with you? What if you're paying an escort to accompany you to dinner, but she doesn't sleep with you? What's legal, what's illegal, and why do you trust the police and "tough on crime" prosecutors to make that distinction?

        Everyone is somebody else's weirdo.
    • (Score: 2) by butthurt on Sunday October 09 2016, @04:25PM

      by butthurt (6141) on Sunday October 09 2016, @04:25PM (#412099) Journal

      A difference from Craigslist is that takes payment for at least some personals ads. []

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by GungnirSniper on Sunday October 09 2016, @03:33AM

    by GungnirSniper (1671) on Sunday October 09 2016, @03:33AM (#411905) Journal

    Every time something is banned by the government the invisible hand of the black market inevitably makes the problem worse. There would not be a significant market for trafficked women if free women could openly worth this trade. Instead shady figures fill the void. This is similar to all the deaths with impure and variably-dosed heroin. Let women f for money. The Iranians have it right, it's just a very short marriage.

    • (Score: 2) by isostatic on Sunday October 09 2016, @09:09AM

      by isostatic (365) on Sunday October 09 2016, @09:09AM (#412001) Journal

      Except there's still trafficking in Amsterdam.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 09 2016, @12:12PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 09 2016, @12:12PM (#412037)

        Because Amsterdam is the Vegas of sex and drugs with high demand and low supply.

        Make America Sexy Again by legalizing prostitution in the whole country and native whores will go for the easy money.

      • (Score: 2, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 09 2016, @12:25PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 09 2016, @12:25PM (#412038)

        He said that there would not be a significant market for trafficked women if prostitution was legal, not that the market wouldn't exist at all.

  • (Score: -1, Spam) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 09 2016, @11:06AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 09 2016, @11:06AM (#412025)

    >See: D__teron__y chapter 22 verses 28-29, hebrew allows men to rape girl children and keep them: thus man + girl is obviously fine. Feminists are commanded to be killed as anyone enticing others to follow another ruler/judge/god is to be killed as-per Deuteronomy. It is wonderful when this happens from time to time: celebrate)

    >In the United States, as late as the 1880s most States set the minimum age at 10-12, (in Delaware it was 7 in 1895).[8] Inspired by the "Maiden Tribute" female reformers in the US initiated their own campaign[9] which petitioned legislators to raise the legal minimum age to at least 16, with the ultimate goal to raise the age to 18. The campaign was successful, with almost all states raising the minimum age to 16-18 years by 1920.

  • (Score: 3, Touché) by Justin Case on Sunday October 09 2016, @06:43PM

    by Justin Case (4239) on Sunday October 09 2016, @06:43PM (#412151) Journal

    I know the political correctness running amok elevates victims to the highest levels of exaltation, but this is absurd:

    victims who confirmed they paid Backpage to post ads

    We now have people paying so that they can become victims???!!

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 10 2016, @02:49AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 10 2016, @02:49AM (#412280)

      The cyberpimp made them do it.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 10 2016, @08:10AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 10 2016, @08:10AM (#412345)
      Yeah just like all those "trafficked victims" who paid money to agents so they could get work sucking dicks for the about same amount of money per day they would get in a month working in a sweatshop back in their home country.

      And when they get caught and deported, they often try to do the same thing again and again. Amazing huh? I suppose most dicks don't taste as bad as the taste of poverty. Maybe if you've tasted their poverty enough you might agree with them. They are victims alright. Victims of being born in some crappy country, often victims of useless/abusive ex-husbands. It's not really the pimp or customer forcing them to suck dicks (personally I find the idea of having my dick sucked rather disgusting but somehow it seems popular with many guys, I doubt most girls like it - since girls on average seem to get disgusted more easily than guys ).

      I hope those trying to save these women really have good alternatives lined up for them, and aren't just pretending to help. Seems many of these "Defenders" are merely a different bunch using these women, with the difference these women don't get paid for being used by such "Defenders".
  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 09 2016, @10:34PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 09 2016, @10:34PM (#412226)

    The DA that is charging him is Kamala Harris. She's currently running for the US Senate. []
    This prosecution sure looks like it was politically motivated. Too bad because I kind of liked her, as DA's go, before this.