Backpage creators indicted on prostitution and money laundering charges

The Justice Department announced Monday that seven people associated with Backpage.com, a classified ads website that...

Posted: Apr 10, 2018 8:12 AM
Updated: Apr 10, 2018 8:12 AM

The Justice Department announced Monday that seven people associated with Backpage.com, a classified ads website that has long been criticized for failing to crack down on sex trafficking on its platform, have been indicted for facilitating prostitution, conspiracy and money laundering-related charges.

The department announced the news Monday afternoon after a federal judge in Arizona unsealed a 93-count indictment against Backpage creators Michael Lacey and James Larkin, and five others.

According to the indictment, Backpage earned over $500 million dollars in prostitution-related revenue from the site and illegally routed the proceeds through unrelated entities.

"For far too long, Backpage.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "But this illegality stops right now. Last Friday, the Department of Justice seized Backpage, and it can no longer be used by criminals to promote and facilitate human trafficking."

The website was seized on Friday and a banner appeared saying: "Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized as part of an enforcement action" by the FBI, US Postal Inspection Service and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and advocacy groups have long called for an investigation into Backpage.com for allegedly facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking.

The lawsuit represents a major takedown of a "gigantic marketplace of online prostitution" by directly targeting those who facilitate the crime, a Justice Department official said.

The individuals are not being directly charged with commercial sex exploitation, but Backpage's involvement in facilitating prostitution was "no mistake" the official said, adding that the site turned a "blind eye" to sex trafficking that resulted from ads on the web pages.

"The Backpage defendants have admitted -- in internal company documents and during private meetings -- that they know the overwhelming majority of the website's ads involve prostitution," prosecutors allege in the indictment. "Many of the ads published on Backpage depicted children who were victims of sex trafficking. Once again, although Backpage has sought to create the perception that it diligently attempts to prevent the publication of such ads, the reality is that Backpage has allowed such ads to be published while declining -- for financial reasons -- to take necessary steps to address the problem."

Law enforcement officials said the case was brought in Arizona because Backpage was founded there, and that's where its servers and banking accounts exist.

A two-year Senate investigation into online sex trafficking found that found that Backpage.com knowingly aided criminal sex trafficking of women and young girls, simply scrubbing terms from ads such as "Lolita," "teenage," "rape," "Amber Alert," and publishing them on its site. After the investigation was published in January 2017, Backpage.com shut down its adult ads section.

The company has been targeted with several lawsuits over the years but has been largely protected by Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, a legal protection that gives a broad layer of immunity to online companies from being held liable for user-generated content. Companies are supposed to act in good faith to protect users but critics argue it can be used as a shield. The law, however, does not, protect sites from federal liability against criminal law, like child-pornography laws.

Last month, however, the Senate approved bipartisan legislation called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. The legislation would create an exception to Section 230, which would pave the way for victims of sex trafficking to hold websites accountable for facilitating abuse.

Two days after the Senate approval, Backpage competitor Craigslist removed its personal ads section.

CNN Money: Craigslist shuts down its personals section

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 537828

Reported Deaths: 7010
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1120831667
Ramsey46402845
Dakota40949413
Anoka37022412
Washington24118273
Stearns20436213
St. Louis16304294
Scott15379115
Wright14242124
Olmsted1254095
Sherburne1011078
Carver938642
Clay763489
Rice7373100
Blue Earth674440
Kandiyohi617079
Crow Wing586986
Chisago533848
Otter Tail529373
Benton515896
Mower445032
Winona434149
Douglas430270
Goodhue428271
Nobles395747
Morrison380358
McLeod378354
Beltrami364257
Polk358566
Isanti356859
Itasca356051
Steele344614
Becker341548
Lyon341048
Carlton321052
Freeborn318529
Pine304621
Nicollet297342
Brown288439
Mille Lacs268147
Todd264030
Le Sueur263722
Cass240326
Meeker226037
Waseca225320
Martin208429
Wabasha19793
Roseau192418
Dodge16774
Hubbard166841
Renville166743
Redwood162735
Houston161814
Cottonwood151320
Fillmore15009
Pennington148419
Chippewa143436
Faribault141019
Wadena139120
Sibley131210
Aitkin125836
Watonwan12419
Kanabec124021
Rock120618
Jackson112310
Yellow Medicine108018
Pipestone106925
Murray10119
Pope9816
Swift96918
Marshall83417
Stevens78910
Lake77719
Wilkin75212
Clearwater75014
Koochiching73611
Lac qui Parle72922
Big Stone5544
Lincoln5502
Grant5378
Norman5109
Mahnomen4888
Unassigned48278
Kittson43622
Red Lake3796
Traverse3585
Lake of the Woods2912
Cook1440

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 354126

Reported Deaths: 5789
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk55359596
Linn20099328
Scott18614234
Black Hawk15431306
Woodbury14733219
Johnson1379980
Dubuque12985202
Dallas1080196
Pottawattamie10574158
Story1021947
Warren546586
Clinton529789
Cerro Gordo517586
Webster506091
Sioux502173
Marshall476074
Muscatine452996
Des Moines438064
Wapello4237120
Buena Vista420740
Jasper406070
Plymouth393379
Lee366355
Marion353475
Jones291655
Henry285337
Bremer278060
Carroll277550
Crawford261539
Boone255731
Benton248755
Washington247849
Dickinson237443
Mahaska222449
Jackson216842
Kossuth211161
Clay207525
Tama206170
Delaware200239
Winneshiek191833
Page188720
Buchanan186631
Fayette182541
Cedar182223
Wright178335
Hardin178142
Hamilton176649
Harrison174473
Clayton165255
Butler161834
Mills156920
Cherokee156238
Floyd154242
Lyon153141
Poweshiek152033
Madison151719
Allamakee148951
Iowa144624
Hancock142234
Winnebago135131
Grundy134632
Cass133654
Calhoun133011
Jefferson130435
Emmet127040
Shelby126237
Appanoose125947
Louisa125848
Sac125619
Mitchell125241
Union123732
Chickasaw121815
Humboldt117826
Guthrie116528
Franklin112321
Palo Alto109322
Howard102522
Unassigned10010
Montgomery99437
Clarke97923
Keokuk94230
Monroe92728
Ida88233
Adair83932
Pocahontas83021
Monona80430
Davis79824
Greene76210
Lucas74822
Osceola73316
Worth6958
Taylor64812
Fremont60310
Decatur5889
Van Buren55318
Ringgold53322
Wayne51723
Audubon4909
Adams3264
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Cloudy
44° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 39°
Mason City
Cloudy
44° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 37°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 36°
Austin
Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 39°
Charles City
Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 38°
Drier conditions for the weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events