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Backpage CEO arrested in sex trafficking probe

The head of the online ad site is accused of pimping children

Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer Ferrer: Texas Office of the Attorney General/backpage.com

Backpage CEO arrested in sex trafficking probe

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Thursday his office arrested Carl Ferrer, CEO of the embattled online ad website Backpage, on California felony pimping charges, including pimping a minor. Ferrer is being held in lieu of a $500,000 bond and will face an extradition hearing before he can be returned to California. In Texas, he will face additonal charges of money laundering related to human trafficking. Michael Lacey and James Larkin, controlling shareholders of Backpage, have also been criminally charged with conspiracy to commit pimping, a felony in California.

“Backpage.com seems to have knowingly and willingly allowed women and children to be exploited in return for its own financial gain,” Paxton said in a press conference. His office also raided the Dallas headquarters of Backpage based on a warrant for suspected money laundering. Paxton stated Ferrer was repeatedly alerted to ads involving minors on his website, but his company took no action to correct the issue.

A three-year investigation by the offices of the Texas and California attorneys general revealed adult and child sex-trafficking victims were forced into prostitution through escort ads that appeared on Backpage. In California, it is a felony to solicit on behalf of a prostitute or derive income from the earnings of a prostitute. State laws also includes additonal penalties for trafficking a minor.

“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said. “Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel.”

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported an 800 percent increase since 2012 in reports of suspected child sex trafficking, much of it the result of online ads, including more than 2,900 instances of suspicious Backpage ads involving children. One of the minors mentioned in the indictment was sold for sex beginning at 12 years of age.

Despite those glaring allegations, laws similar to California’s in other states did not prevail against Backpage in court. In its defense, Backpage cites a small section in the Communications Decency Act, which says online intermediaries that host or republish speech aren’t responsible for what their customers say and do. Most state judges have sided with Backpage. But the California indictment adds additonal allegations that much of Backpage’s income came from prostitution and its executives profited from the exploitation of victims.

The California indictment, posted on the media website Patch, recorded numerous incidents between 2012 and 2015 in which Backpage postings involved sex trafficking. During that same period, Backpage’s income grew from $1.5 million to $2.5 million per month in California alone. The indictment also stated Backpage reported worldwide revenue for the week of June 22, 2015, of more than $3 million, 17 percent of which came from California. The “adult section” accounted for 99 percent of Backpage’s worldwide income.

Also according to the indictment, many victims were forced into sex with customers more than 10 times a night. One victim, now 29, stated she had two children during the time she was being trafficked but “never learned to change a diaper or care for her children because she was continually forced to engage in commercial sex.”

In March, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to hold Backpage executives in contempt after the company refused to comply with a subpoena to appear before a congressional committee. Backpage launched a series of appeals, ending with the Supreme Court’s ruling that Backpage must comply with the subpoena and produce information about how it screens ads for sex trafficking.

U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., co-chairpeople of the Senate committee investigating online sex trafficking, released a statement on Ferrer’s arrest: “For the past 18 months, we have led a bipartisan investigation into the scourge of online sex trafficking. That investigation led us directly to Backpage. … We will continue to press forward and complete our longstanding investigation.”

Texas Attorney General Paxton vowed the same. Emphasizing his investigation was still ongoing, he said, “We’re not stopping here.”

Gaye Clark

Gaye is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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I repeat once again. Over 80% of the babies aborted in the U.S. are to unwed women. This says fornication is the main cause of our abortions and the dark side of our society will fight to keep their sexual pleasures intact. The entertainment industry displays poor role models that encourage sexual permissiveness and the bias news media whose paycheck comes from the entertainment industry does little to curb the social decline. Have you ever heard a pastor say over 80% of the babies aborted in the U.S. are to unwed women and then reveal fornication as the cause of our abortions? Fornication is condemned many times in the Bible. God is at war with satan and this war is fought on many fronts. The physical life and eternal souls of countless millions are at stake. Satan’s greatest weapon is deception. God loves us enough to call some things sin because sin damages or destroys relationships. God desires a loving relationship with each of us that begins by us wanting a relationship with him.

John 3:16-17 (KJV)
16  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

1 John 1:8-10 (KJV)
8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.