Backpage founders face indictment on 93 charges

Backpage founders face indictment on 93 charges

An indictment unsealed Monday alleges that Backpage.com on some occasions had helped customers edit their ads so they would stay within legal limits while still encouraging commercial sex.

A federal grand jury in Phoenix has brought charges of prostitution, conspiracy and money laundering against the founders and top executives of Backpage.com, an online classified ad marketplace.

Federal authorities believe the founders of Backpage.com and five others who worked for the website not only facilitated prostitution by running ads for it but hid their profits as well. They now face 93 charges ranging from conspiracy and money laundering to facilitating prostitution. Their attorneys did not return phone calls seeking comment.

These federal charges are unrelated to the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, a controversial bill that would make website operators liable for illegal content posted to their sites.

KARE 11's Kent Erdahl looked into what this all means for law enforcement. Shutting down the largest online USA marketplace for sex trafficking will dramatically reduce the profitability of forcing people into the commercial sex trade, at least in the short term.

Some of the ads that appeared at Backpage's adult section began appearing at the singles section of the website, however. According to the indictment, nearly every dollar the website earned was made through illegal activity of some sort. She says when Backpage disappeared, adult sex workers were forced back to street corners, where their lives are far more unsafe. Although the indictment does not charge the defendants with sex trafficking crimes - sex trafficking, which involves the prostitution of children and forced prostitution of adults, is legally distinct from prostitution more generally - the official said the case was part of the government's larger efforts to combat trafficking.

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Lacey and Larkin oversaw the website's policies and strategic direction and have "retained significant control over the website", the indictment said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), one of Backpage's leading opponents in Congress, also praised the Justice Department's action.

When they were called to testify before a Senate committee early past year, Lacey and Larkin invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

A two-year Senate investigation into online sex trafficking found that found that Backpage.com knowingly aided criminal sex trafficking of women and young girls, simply scrubbing terms from ads such as "Lolita", "teenage", "rape", "Amber Alert", and publishing them on its site.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. odd said in a statement that it "is appropriate that Backpage is now facing criminal charges in Arizona, where the company was founded".

A hearing is scheduled Wednesday for lawyers to argue over whether Lacey should be released from jail. A trial date in the case has been set for June 5.

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