Texas authorities Thursday arrested the CEO of Backpage.com, which features ads for “escorts,” on pimping charges.
Carl Ferrer was charged with pimping, pimping a minor and conspiracy to commit pimping. The controlling shareholders of Backpage, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were charged with conspiracy to commit pimping. They are accused of operating an online brothel that generates millions of dollars from the illegal sex trade.
“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a press release. “Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel."
The charges were filed in Sacramento, the result of a three-year investigation. Ferrer was arrested and booked in Houston after arriving on a flight from Amsterdam where the company has another office. Backpage’s Dallas headquarters also were raided.
“Initially he’ll face charges in California for pimping and other associated crimes, but Texas will have its own investigation,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told KHOU, Houston. “Making money off the backs of innocent human beings by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is not acceptable in Texas.”
Backpage allows customers to upload ads using coded language and nearly nude photos, which Kamala said generate most of Backpage’s revenue. Though a judge ruled earlier this year Backpage cannot be held criminally liable for the content of the ads under the Communications Decency Act because it just hosts them, not publish them, Ferrer takes data from Backpage users to create content for other websites, the release said. Much of the content is based on young women and minors who are abused by their pimps.
Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the sheriff of the second largest county in the nation, Cook County (Illinois) Sheriff Thomas Dart who asked MasterCard and Visa to stop processing charges from Backpage. Both credit card firms announced they would stop processing charges from the website they received a letter from Dart but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Dart’s actions infringed on free speech and equal protection rights.
"While we are disappointed with the Court's decision not to take our appeal, we remain committed to fighting the horrors of human trafficking," the sheriff's office said in a statement.
The media research firm AIM reported in 2012 Backpage accounts for about 70 percent of the more than $22 million in prostitution advertising on five websites.
Last month, the Supreme Court declined to block a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations subpoena for Ferrer to testify in its investigation of child sex trafficking.