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Backpage.com, CEO Plead Guilty to Texas Human Trafficking Charges

14 April 2018, 08:18 | Myrtle Vega

Sex website CEO pleads guilty in Sacramento to money laundering in Backpage case | The Sacramento Bee

Backpage.com Seized, 93-Count Federal Indictment Levied Against Prostitution Website

The Texas Attorney General's Office announced Thursday that Backpage.com has pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Texas less than a week after federal officials permanently shut down the online classifieds site. On Monday, federal officials seized and shut down Backpage and affiliated websites.

Calling it the "largest online sex trafficking marketplace in the world", Paxton said Backpage facilitated the sex trafficking of innocent women and children at 943 locations in 97 countries and 17 languages.

"This builds on the historic effort in Congress to reform the law that for too long has protected websites like Backpage from being held liable for enabling the sale of young women and children", his statement said. "The shutdown of Backpage.com is a tremendous victory for the survivors and their families".

But the measure is not without its critics - some say it would undermine a basic underpinning of the internet which enables websites to host information from third parties without liability.

But Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who introduced a Senate version of the bill, also lead a Senate subcommittee investigation that resulted in a report past year on Backpage.com's "knowing facilitation of online sex trafficking".

He also says he conspired with others at Backpage.com to launder the proceeds from such ads after credit card companies and banks refused to do business with the site.

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Although the pair sold their interests in Backpage in 2015, the indictment said they had since "retained significant control over the website", receiving tens of millions of dollars.

Executive Vice President Scott Spear was charged with facilitating prostitution and money laundering. Chief Financial Officer John Brunst was charged with money laundering.

When they were called to testify before a Senate committee early a year ago, Lacey and Larkin invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

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

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. It called those claims little more than "a fiction created to hide the true nature of Backpage's ads and customers". The state attorney general's office, which is prosecuting the case, alleges that Backpage's operators illegally funneled almost $45 million through multiple companies and created websites to get around banks that refused to process their transactions. The lawmakers concluded there was sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation.

In a press statement obtained by USA Today, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the seizure of Backpage.



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