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.
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 lead 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 was 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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
Earlier today, Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested on prostitution and child prostitution charges after departing a flight from Amsterdam at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport. The warrant, out of the state of California, alleges that 99% of Baclkpage’s revenue comes from the money it makes off of prostitution ads. Along with Ferrer’s arrest, the offices of Backpage in Dallas were also raided and arrest warrants have been issued for Backpage shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin. They’re being charged with conspiracy to commit pimping.
While this is great news, and a long time coming, I have to wonder how this will affect the Senate investigation into Backpage? To date, Backpage has caught just about every legal lucky break in their controversial history. However, those were either for legislative or civil lawsuit issues. Will these criminal charges stick? I sure as hell hope they do but I wouldn’t be surprised if the charges were dismissed.
Currently, or at least as I’m typing this, Ferrer is being held on $500K bond. Considering he’s an obvious flight risk with all his wheeling and dealing in Amsterdam, one has to wonder if that bond is high enough. Since Fererr blew off a Congressional subpoena last year I have no doubt that he’s capable of ignoring any conditions of his bond if he is released.
As has been usual lately, Backpage attorney Liz McDougall has had no comment. When she has nothing to say, you know it has to be pretty bad for Backpage.
I originally posted about the SAVE act proposed by Illinois Senator Mark Kirk here. Backpage has responded to the latest threat through usual means with the typical response.
Let’s hear from Backpage’s legal weasel Liz McDougall…
“The aim of stopping the sex trafficking of minors, indeed the trafficking of any human being, is laudable,” Backpage.com attorney Liz McDougall wrote. “However, identifying and vilifying a single U.S. website (previously craigslist, now Backpage.com) as the cause of the problem and the key to the solution are ill-founded and unproductive.”
So according to Backpage it’s laudable to stop sex trafficking but more importantly it’s profitable so we’re not going to stop. Also vilifying Backpage is not unproductive considering they’re the online leaders of where women and children are trafficked. Unfortunately for right not the law is on Backpage’s side, a badly outdated law called the Communications Decency Act of 1996, but the law nonetheless.
Let’s be realistic here. Backpage makes their money through the purchasing of ads where these women and children are advertised as prostitutes. They’ll make grand gestures that they screen the ads but deep down I think they know where their money is coming from yet Backpage owners Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin continue to wallow in their prostitution profits while paying Liz McDougall to do tricks for the people.
Unites States Senator Mark Kirk represents the state of Illinois. Along with Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez he is hoping to get legislation passed that would allow the government to take action against Backpage for facilitating sex trafficking. If you’ll notice I didn’t mention his political affiliation because when it comes to sex trafficking sides of the aisle shouldn’t matter.
Senator Kirk had some very poignant things to say about the matter…
“As President Obama has said, it’s time to call human trafficking what it really is – modern day slavery,” Sen. Kirk said. “Illinois was the first state in the nation to ratify the 13th amendment that abolished slavery – it makes sense for Illinois to lead the nation in a bipartisan effort to end human trafficking. We can start by putting an end to sex ads on websites like Backpage.com.”
“Everyone in America should be outraged that Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin can make millions by victimizing young women,” Sen. Kirk added. “It’s time to bring Lacey and Larkin to justice.”
Lacey and Larkin are the scumbags that own Backpage.
The proposed legislation is called SAVE which stands for Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation. It would allow the government to shut down advertisements on websites promoting underage sex.
What the article I linked to doesn’t mention is that there are two overwhelming obstacles that this act would need to hurdle. The first of course is the Communications Decency Act of 1996. That act absolves website owners of any wrong doing if their users engage in criminal activity. As I’ve said numerous times before in internet years it might as well have been the Communications Decency Act of 1776. I doubt the drafters of the CDA had the sex trafficking of women and children in mind when the act was first passed. The second obstacle is the First Amendment of the US Constitution which guarantees the right to free press. Excuse me for not being anything even remotely close to a legal scholar but doesn’t the right for the victims of human trafficking to be free outweigh any right Backpage can claim when they’re making money from slavery? If there are any legal experts reading this please feel free to correct me.
I wish Senator Kirk and State Attorney Alvarez all the best with this but unfortunately the success rate for similar legislation has been nil.