World

Backpage.com, CEO plead guilty to state, USA charges

Backpage.com, CEO plead guilty to state, USA charges

Texas authorities said Thursday that Backpage.com will plead guilty to human trafficking and its leader will plead guilty to money laundering, one week after the classified ad website was seized by federal officials.

In response, Ferrer admitted that he worked with his co-conspirators to find ways to fool credit card companies into believing that Backpage-associated charges were being incurred on different websites, to route Backpage-related payments and proceeds through bank accounts held in the name of seemingly unconnected entities, and to use cryptocurrency-processing companies for similar purposes.

Last week, Backpage began displaying a message saying the federal government had seized the website. Ferrer's attorneys did not immediately respond to request for comment. John McCain, R-Arizona, said in a statement following the seizure. "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.

As the largest online sex trafficking marketplace in the world, Backpage facilitated the sex trafficking of innocent women and children through sites it ran for 943 locations in 97 countries and 17 languages.

A federal subcommittee in 2017 went further in a scathing report alleging Backpage concealed its criminal conduct by sanitizing its adult ads and stripping words and terms such as "lolita", "rape", "amber alert" and "school girl" that could tip authorities to sex trafficking and child sex trafficking - all under Ferrer's direction.

More news: Trump pardons Scooter Libby, former Cheney aide embroiled in CIA leak case
More news: Cosby arrives as he's set to face chief accuser
More news: Olynyk, Heat to duel with 76ers in Round 1

In his plea agreement, Carl Ferrer, 57, admitted that he had always been aware that the great majority of Backpage's "escort" and "adult" advertisements were for prostitution services, the department said in a statement. "It is appropriate that Backpage is now facing criminal charges in Arizona, where the company was founded, and I applaud the tremendous efforts of the agents who contributed to last Friday's enforcement action and who assisted in obtaining the indictment in this case".

Lacey and Larkin oversaw the website's policies and strategic direction and have "retained significant control over the website", the indictment said.

The terms of the agreement also require Ferrer to assist USA authorities to shut the operation down, as well as forfeit to the government corporate assets and other property owned or controlled by Backpage-linked entities.

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. Ferrer also agreed to cooperate in the ongoing California prosecution against the founders who have not pleaded guilty.

The indictment disputed the site's claims that it barred ads offering illegal services and patrolled ads with computer filters and human moderators to weed out prostitution.

From the Texas Attorney General's Office.