Backpage. com operators plead guilty to human trafficking, money laundering

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The recently shuttered classified advertising website Backpage and its CEO have pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges, the US Justice Department announced Thursday, April 12.

"While there is no silver bullet to end sex trafficking, to stop its largest beneficiary is a huge step in the right direction", Krell said following the hearing.

According to his plea agreement, Ferrer admitted that he had always been aware that the great majority of Backpage's "escort" and "adult" advertisements are, in fact, advertisements for prostitution services, which are not protected by the First Amendment and which are illegal in 49 states and in much of Nevada. But a letter provided to the committee before the hearing said the site and its employees "agree that human trafficking is abhorrent and should be eradicated" and that it "has spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars" working with law enforcement to fight trafficking.

Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer pleaded guilty to human trafficking in three states.

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 executive then traveled to Texas where he again pleaded guilty to money laundering and Backpage pleaded guilty to human trafficking.

In exchange for his cooperation, Ferrer will serve a maximum of five years in each case, to be served concurrently.

Also Thursday, prosecutors in Texas and California said CEO Carl Ferrer pleaded guilty to money laundering.

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From the Texas Attorney General's Office.

In a federal indictment unsealed Monday and cited by the Associated Press, the website's founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, are accused of facilitating prostitution by running ads for sexual services and laundering the revenues.

The founders also were among those indicted this month by a federal grand jury in Arizona. This comes less than a week after the attorney general's office assisted the Department of Justice with permanently shutting down the website.

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.

Ferrer was taken into custody following a joint investigation by the Texas and California attorneys general.

The site was the dominant hub for sex workers to advertise their services, and it had come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as the USA government made efforts to crack down on sex trafficking with legislation like the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA), which President Trump signed this week.

The Dutch-owned company is incorporated in DE, but its principal place of business is in Dallas. "There is no one in the entire world who made more money off sex trafficking than the owners of this website", she said.

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