Backpage chief pleads guilty, will cooperate in prostitution case

CEO Plead Guilty to Texas Human Trafficking Charges AP File

The acknowledgements of wrongdoing came shortly after Ferrer pleaded guilty on Thursday to a state money laundering charges in California and the company pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Texas.

Law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department, seized Backpage's servers last week after the DOJ found the site took "consistent and concerted actions" to intentionally allow ads for illegal sex work, The Washington Post reported.

Along with the prison time, Ferrer could also face a $250,000 fine in the federal case in Arizona, while Backpage.com could face a maximum fine of $500,000 for its money laundering conspiracy plea in the Arizona case.

Ferrer has also agreed in his California plea to take down every Backpage-affiliated website that he can within five days and forfeit all Backpage-related domains within 14 days.

A federal subcommittee in 2017 went further in a scathing report alleging Backpage concealed its criminal conduct by sanitizing its adult ads and stripping words and terms such as "lolita", "rape", "amber alert" and "school girl" that could tip authorities to sex trafficking and child sex trafficking - all under Ferrer's direction. Ferrer's attorneys did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The Texas and California attorneys general worked together to find evidence that adult and child sex trafficking victims were forced into prostitution, Breitbart Texas reported. "The shutdown of Backpage.com is a tremendous victory for the survivors and their families". He called Ferrer's plea "a game-changer in combatting human trafficking in California, indeed worldwide".

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Larkin, Lacey, and five other defendants were charged Monday with knowingly facilitating prostitution-related crimes, as well as money laundering for their work at Backpage. Lacey, who also had his initial court appearance on April 6 before Judge Willett, subsequently had a detention hearing on April 11 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bridget S. Bade of the District of Arizona and was ordered to temporarily remain in custody until his continued hearing on Friday, April 13.

Backpage pleaded guilty to facilitating the sex trafficking of women and children through sites it ran for 943 locations in 97 countries and 17 languages.

Lacey and Larkin also earlier pleaded not guilty in California after Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Larry Brown past year allowed the state to continue with money laundering charges. Prosecutors allege Backpage's operators illegally funneled almost $45 million through multiple companies and created websites to get around banks that refused to process their transactions. Brown ruled that the charges are barred by a federal law protecting free speech that grants immunity to websites posting content from others.

The agreements were published one day after President Trump signed anti-sex-trafficking legislation into law on Wednesday. The company also pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Texas.

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".

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in his announcement that Ferrer's cooperation "could lead to other criminal charges against individuals associated with the company".

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