In a previous post, I wondered what Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer’s role was in the Federal seizure of Backpage since his name did not appear on the 93-count indictment against other Backpage heads and employees. Now we know as it has been announced that prior to the seizure of Backpage, Ferrer pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution.
Last week, not March for once, Federal authorities announced that they took Ferrer to three separate states to plead guilty against the various charges against him in Texas, Arizona and California. Ferrer has also agreed to testify against Backpage founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin. In his pleas Ferrer admitted that Backpage was well aware that the ads on its site were used to facilitate prostitution.
“I have long been aware,” Ferrer wrote, “that the great majority of these 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).”
Ferrer also admitted that Backpage was used to launder money after the credit card companies stopped accepting payments for Backpage.
“I worked with my co-conspirators to find ways to fool credit card companies into believing that Backpage-associated charges were being incurred on different websites,” as well as route Backpage money through seemingly unrelated entities, and to use companies which processed crypto-currencies.”
This virtually nullifies any kind of ‘free speech’ argument Backpage could possibly present in court.
In exchange for his plea, Ferrer is looking at a maximum of five years in prison and forfeiture of his corporate assets. While I wholeheartedly believe Ferrer should spend way more time in prison than five years, if it gets Lacey and Larkin to spend a considerable amount of time in prison then I’m all for it.
Monday, the 93-count indictment against seven Backpage employees was finally made public. As previously noted, Backpage co-founder Michael Lacey was already known to have been named in the indictment. What we know now is the remaining six people being indicted for various charges related to the Federal seizure of Backpage. One of the expected names to be listed on the indictment was the other co-founder of Backpage, Jim Larkin, and his name is listed second on the indictment. However, there is one name that’s missing from the list of the seven Backpage employees who you would think would be at or near the top of the list.
In case you’re still wondering whose name is not appearing on the list it would be that of Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer. However, while not currently under indictment, Ferrer is referenced to several times in the indictment by the initials “C.F.” and not always referred to in the best light. For example, C.F. is said to have rejected an implementation that would admonish Backpage users if they used search terms that would indicate they were looking for a child prostitute. This is the same Carl Ferrer who decided to just ignore a Congressional subpoena in 2015.
This obviously leads to the question, is Carl Ferrer the reason the seizure took place in the first place? The feds could have had a big enough carrot to dangle in front of Ferrer as he was still facing money laundering charges in the state of California. If that’s the case Ferrer should be applauded somewhat for allowing the internet’s largest avenue for human trafficking facilitation to be taken down, but let’s keep in mind that in the past, Ferrer has never had the best of intentions. One also has to wonder if Ferrer may have been granted immunity from prosecution if he turned on his seven cohorts. Although, I would imagine this wouldn’t make him immune to any civil litigation which probably would hurt Ferrer more than any prison sentence.
I’ve been behind in posting stories about the legal battles befalling Backpage, such as the passage of the SESTA/FOSTA bill that would amend section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The legislation is worded so websites that knowingly facilitate human trafficking would be held legally responsible. However, even before SESTA/FOSTA could be signed into law by the President, the Backpage website was seized by State and Federal authorities this past Friday.
Anyone going to Backpage online on Friday was greeted with the Department of Justice’s declaration that Backpage had been seized as part of an enforcement action by not only the FBI but also the US Postal Inspector’s Office and the IRS. It’s the IRS’s involvement that leads me to believe this is finally the last we’ve seen of Backpage. According to Wired Magazine, there has been a 93 count indictment against seven people involved with Backpage where one of the charges is money laundering. I would even hazard a guess that maybe Backpage and its cabal of founders may not have been exactly forthcoming on their taxes. Let’s not forget that this is almost the exact same way the Feds were able to finally take down Al Capone. One of those people charged in the indictment was Backpage co-founder Mike Lacey. I would imagine that indictments for Backapge CEO Carl Ferrer and co-founder Jim Larkin can’t be far behind.
Surprisingly, this is not the first instance of the Feds seizing a website that was involved in the facilitation of human trafficking. Back in 2014, the FBI seized MyRedBook which was a similar site to Backpage but on a much smaller scale. In that case, the site owners were also accused of money laundering among child prostitution charges. That site’s owner was convicted and was forced to relinquish over a million dollars in cash and assets and was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. Since Backpage operated on a much grander scale, I would imagine any potential fines and sentences would dwarf those of MyRedBook.
Since FOSTA/SESTA has yet to be signed into law, its detractors will say that we no longer need the legislation since Backpage was shut down without it. To those I say FOSTA/SESTA is still needed to prevent another website to rise from Backpage’s ashes like Backpage rose from craigslist’s. No woman or child ever deserves to be turned out online like so much property to be sold into sexual slavery over and over again on a constant basis.
And for those who claim to be ‘legitimate’ sex workers who say Backpage made it safer for them to ply their trade, I have a couple of things to say. The first is, any supposed safety that you perceive to have given to you by Backpage is nothing more than a talking point and an illusion. For all your safety, there were a plethora of women who were either raped or killed by men who had their victims delivered to them through Backpage like they were some kind of murder pizza. The second thing is, if you supposedly have the freedom to choose what you’re doing and are not being coerced by any kind of pimp or trafficker like so many have claimed, maybe this is your sign to pursue more legitimate ventures in your life. You know, ones where you don’t have to worry about pimps, violent johns, and other potentiality tragic hazards of the job.
For the past two weeks, the news has been filled with stories about Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Details have been made public about his alleged serial behavior of sexual assault and harassment against actresses and other female members of the entertainment industry that according to some reports goes back as far as 1980. The number of women who have spoken out against Weinstein’s behavior has been staggering. This in turn has sparked the Me Too movement where women from all walks of life have come out on social media using the hashtag #MeToo to show they have been sexually assaulted or harassed, and again, the numbers are staggering.
Now I’m not saying that any woman’s sexual assault is more or less traumatic or impactful than any other, however, there are a number of women and girls out there in society who don’t have the freedom or liberty to say they were sexually assaulted too. I’m sure by now you know where I’m going with this. Thanks to websites like Backpage and people like its CEO Carl Ferrer, there are more women and girls than ever being trafficked for the purposes of forced prostitution and sexual slavery.
Many of these victims are forced into this life through either violent means or some form of deception, such as their traffickers posing as talent or modeling agents. Often these victims have no means of communication to the world outside of prostitution and are often raped by their pimps. Then they’re advertised to be raped again for money on sites like Backpage. Meanwhile, it’s the pimps and Backpage itself who make all the money. To make matters even worse, Backpage hides behind the concept of free speech to continue exploiting these victims.
Sadly, Backpage’s victims don’t receive the same kind of media attention as the Weinstein scandal. They have very few voices who are willing to shine a light on their plight and when they do many people ignore them because they either believe the myth of consenting adults or they find the subject to be too depressing to care about.
So while the women who are sharing their stories are brave indeed, let us not forget the victims who can’t speak on their own behalf due to the position of slavery they have been tragically trapped in.
Back in December, I was concerned that incoming California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, wouldn’t pursue charges against Backpage like his predecessor Kamala Harris did. Those fears were allayed after the Sacramento County Superior Court overruled defense dismissal motions, meaning prosecution against Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and Backpage shareholders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin. While the court dismissed pimping charges against them, again, the court did allow charges of money laundering to remain.
Prosecutors have said that Backpage’s operators illegally funneled money through multiple companies and created various websites to get around banks that refused to process transactions.
“Today’s victory doesn’t exact justice just yet against those who would prey on vulnerable young women and men. But it brings us a step closer.”
Backpage not only allegedly edited their ads to remove any references to underage girls while allowing the ads to remain, they’ve also been accused of copying ads from other websites and soliciting business from people who post sex ads to other sites. Evidence like that could not only prevent Backpage from hiding behind the Communications Decency Act, but could also finally lead to justice for the girls and women who were violently trafficked on Backpage and sold into sexual slavery against their will.
Hell has frozen over. The end is nigh. Backpage has voluntarily shut down the adult sections of its website after the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations announced its findings about the website. The subcommittee reported that they found Backpage was knowingly editing the ads that appeared to have someone underage in them, but still allowed the advertisements to be displayed. Backpage’s own moderators were also allegedly instructed to remove words from the ads that may have hinted at child prostitution.
Backpage executives began using a feature called “Strip Term From Ad Filter” to help screeners automatically delete hundreds words indicative of sex trafficking — such as “lolita, teenage, amber alert, teen and school girl, according to the Senate report.
“Backpage moderators told the Subcommittee that everyone at the company knew the adult-section ads were for prostitution and that their job was to ‘put…lipstick on a pig by sanitizing them,’” the subcommittee alleges in the report.
Backpage responded to the report not only by shutting down sections of their websites that promoted prostitution, but by also posting the above graphic in the adult sections. Please allow me to address the arguments Backpage put’s forth.
First off, the government has not unconstitutionally done anything to Backpage. They literally shut down those sections on their own. The Chairs of the Senate Subcommittee, Senators Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo, even say as much…
“Yesterday we reported the evidence that Backpage has been far more complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone previously knew. Backpage’s response wasn’t to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site. That’s not ‘censorship’—it’s validation of our findings.”
Potentially, Backpage could bring back those sections at any time, and I wouldn’t put it past them.
Also as I’ve said many times in the past, this was never an issue about free speech, it’s always been an issue about how much money Backpage could make off of the women and girls that sold into sexual slavery through their website. The only thing that has kept them legally protected was the archaic Communications Decency Act of 1996 whose crafters obviously didn’t imagine websites would be using their legislation to defend the ‘freedom’ of deriving profit from sex trafficking.
As far as donating to Children of The Night, I can’t stop you from doing that. They do work to get children out of prostitution, however they admittedly have taken money from Backpage which is said to make up 10% of their budget. I would personally recommend SelahFreedom as they have personally assured me they have taken no money from Backpage and never would.
As far as the people who will say that this will drive prostitution and trafficking further underground, I say that’s the whole point. Backpage’s adult sections made it easy for just about anyone to become a pimp or trafficker when all they had to do was pay a few bucks to turn anyone out. With the closing of the adult sections it will mean a significant drop in the number of potential pimps looking to traffic someone online.
For those of you who say Backpage made sex work safer, I’ve already said that concept is highly suspect as it has allowed killers and rapists to have their victims delivered directly to their homes.
Since Backpage reportedly receives 80% of their profits from their adult ads, and that their founders, including CEO Carl Ferrer, are still facing criminal charges, it remains to be seen if Backpage will try to survive as a ‘normal’ classifieds site. However, if I had to hazard a guess I would say probably not, but in the past Backpage has been a virtual Rasputin refusing to die.
Make no mistake that this isn’t a blow to free speech but a victory for all the women and girls that have been trafficked on Backpage for the past decade and more.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris, has filed new charges against the heads of Backpage. After having the pimping charges against Backpage dismissed, Harris is now pursuing charges of money laundering, 26 counts of it to be exact. While these new charges have been filed against Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and shareholders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, I have yet to see any information whether or not arrest warrants have been issued for them. However, they are scheduled to be arraigned on January 11th.
While I admire Ms. Harris’ dedication to the cause, she needs to tread carefully. If these charges are dismissed as well, any further legal action by the Golden State after that could be seen as persecution by the courts. It also bothers me that Ms. Harris is slated to take her new position as a US Senator shortly. Her successor is said to be the Jerry Brown nominated Congressman Xavier Becerra. Will Attorney General Becerra continue the fight against those who profit from sex trafficking with the same devotion that Ms. Harris has? Unfortunately, that remains to be seen. However, the state is looking for victims of Backpage…
The attorney general’s office encourages anyone who was a victim of trafficking via Backpage to file a report with the California Department of Justice by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t say I’m feeling confident about these new charges. While the Communication Decency Act seems to be inapplicable to money laundering charges, I’d be more confident about these latest charges if they made more details public. So far Backpage has been a slippery eel when it has come to being pursued by the law. Hopefully these new charges will finally cut the heads off of this greedy and heartless monster.
Prosecutors say they have new evidence to justify the case. They claim Backpage illegally funneled money through multiple companies and created various websites to get around banks that refused to process transactions.
Now that the Senate claims that Backpage was editing their ads to make them appear legal, these criminal charges may finally have a leg to stand on.
As was also expected, the judge cited the Communications Decency Act of 1996. What else I can say that I haven’t said already? 20 years in internet years is more than a lifetime ago and was designed to protect web site owners from the possible illegal behavior of their users. When it was drafted I’m sure that no one had in mind that certain website owners would hide behind it while they collected money for the girls and women who were being prostituted on their website. The CDA is woefully outdated and is in desperate need of a revision so morally bankrupt miscreants like Ferrer and Co. don’t continue to profit by making millions of dollars off the victims of prostitution and human trafficking.
California Attorney General, Kamala Harris, plans to appeal, but until the CDA is updated I don’t see any further legal action ever succeeding. Maybe the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will have better luck against these scumbags, but I’m not holding my breath.
For those of you who may not know the CDA basically says that website owners are not responsible for the content posted by their users. For example, if someone left a comment on my site saying they were going to kill someone and then did it, I would not be held responsible. The problem here is two-fold however. The first is that I’m not making money from my commenters. Backpage makes millions of dollars off of ads that are obviously for prostitution, which brings child prostitution and human trafficking with it. The second issue is that the CDA is 20 years old. It was written before the advent of broadband internet, wi-fi and smartphones. I guess the CDA was formed out of all those inflammatory Geocities pages from back then.
As the internet evolves so should the CDA. To make rulings on such important matters using such an antiquated technological law is shameful. I guess we won’t see any real progress against these panderers until the CDA is modified to reflect current concerns.
The attorney for Backpage.com is blasting the raid on the online classified ad portal’s Dallas headquarters and the arrest of chief executive Carl Ferrer as “an election year stunt” on the part of the California attorney general and “not a good-faith action by law enforcement.”
In a statement issued Friday, Backpage general counsel Liz McDougall said “the actions of the California and Texas attorneys general are flatly illegal” and “ignore the holdings of numerous federal courts that the First Amendment protects the ads on Backpage.com.”
McDougall says Backpage will, in her words, “take all steps necessary to end this frivolous prosecution and will pursue its full remedies under federal law against the state actors who chose to ignore the law, as it has done successfully in other cases.”
Do you think that she believes her own clamoring yet? She talks about good faith legal actions on the part of law enforcement while Backpage collects millions of dollars from people who are being sold into sexual slavery. If anything is flatly illegal, it’s collecting profit from the proceeds of obviously illegal activity where human lives are traded. Not to mention if anyone is not only ignoring the law, let alone common decency, it’s been Backpage.
On another note, Backpage shareholder Mike Lacey sent certain former employees of Village Voice Media unsolicited $5000 checks. If you’ll recall Lacey and Jim Larkin used to run Village Voice Media. Backpage used to be under the umbrella of VVM before they broke off in 2012. D Magazine columnist Tim Rogers suspects it may be so certain Village Voice Media employees would be conflicted in writing about Backpage’s legal issues. That sounds a lot like bribing journalists, doesn’t it? Hearst would be proud.