Published: Sat, April 14, 2018
World | By Camille Rivera

Backpage chief pleads guilty, will cooperate in prostitution case

Backpage chief pleads guilty, will cooperate in prostitution case

Carl Ferrer, the co-founder of Backpage, the notorious and now-shuttered site that once hosted a vast quantity of prostitution-related ads, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and money laundering charges. "But this illegality stops right now".

The pleas were tied to $45 million siphoned through shell corporations prosecutors say were used to hide earnings from pimps, sex workers and johns who used the site's adult services section.

Five employees of the site also were arrested and pleaded not guilty, but Lacey and Larkin are the only ones in jail.

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. The guilty pleas are the latest in a cascade of developments in the last week against the company founded by the former owners of the Village Voice in New York City, Michael Lacey, 69, and James Larkin, 68.

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.

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Michael Lacey, who was charged along with six others in a 93-count indictment this week following the seizure and removal from the internet of Backpage.com, a classified listing website, and affiliated websites, remained in custody following a detention hearing in US District Court in Arizona.

"Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it is happening in our own backyard", California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the plea deal.

The plea agreement provides that, if Ferrer fails to comply with either of these requirements, the plea agreement shall be null and void and the United States may bring additional charges against Ferrer.

The investigation was a joint effort between Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center, along with several U.S. Attorney's offices.

Ferrer further admitted that he conspired with other Backpage principals to find ways to knowingly facilitate the state-law prostitution crimes being committed by Backpage's customers.

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Last year, Lacey, Larkin, and website's chief executive, Carl Ferrer, were acquitted of pimping conspiracy charges by a judge in California, who ruled that the site was protected under laws for sites publishing content by third parties.

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

President Trump yesterday signed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 into law, making it easier for law enforcement to take legal action against any websites that enable human trafficking.

Paxton called the website the "largest online sex trafficking marketplace in the world".

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