Friday, 20 April, 2018

Backpage CEO pleads guilty to conspiracy, money laundering charges

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Lillian Steele | 14 April, 2018, 20:15

Backpage.com pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Texas on Thursday, one week after federal authorities shut down the classified ads website and days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it the "dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex".

In the plea agreement Ferrer - identified in the indictment only by the initials "C.F." - acknowledged wrongdoing, saying he worked with co-conspirators to "create "moderation" processes through which Backpage would remove terms and pictures that were particularly indicative of prostitution and then publish a revised version of the ad". Additionally, the business pleaded guilty to human trafficking.

Azariah Conley, Armando Valdivia and Moses Avila all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first degree burglary and identity theft after reaching an agreement with the state.

Ferrer also agreed to cooperate in the ongoing California prosecution of Backpage.com founders Michael Lacey (left), and James Larkin (right). The executive then traveled to Texas where he again pleaded guilty to money laundering and Backpage pleaded guilty to human trafficking.

An indictment filed in Arizona accuses seven individuals tied to Backpage.com with 93 criminal counts, including money laundering and operating a website to facilitate prostitution.

The founders also were among those indicted this month by a federal grand jury in Arizona.

Lacey and Larkin also earlier pleaded not guilty in California after Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Larry Brown a year ago allowed the state to continue with money laundering charges. 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.

In exchange for his cooperation, Ferrer will serve a maximum of five years in each case, to be served concurrently. This comes less than a week after the attorney general's office assisted the Department of Justice with permanently shutting down the website.

The terms of the agreement also require Ferrer to assist United States authorities to shut the operation down, as well as forfeit to the government corporate assets and other property owned or controlled by Backpage-linked entities.

The three deny the state charges.

The Dutch-owned company is incorporated in DE, but its principal place of business is in Dallas.

SESTA aims to halt sex trafficking, particularly of children, by restricting what kind of information can be posted on websites like Backpage, where people often advertise sexual services.

"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.

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