DALLAS (CN) – 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.
State Attorney General Ken Paxton said CEO Carl Ferrer faces up to five years in prison once he has fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement. He said Ferrer’s cooperation in the ongoing investigation into Dallas-based Backpage “could lead to other criminal charges” being filed against the company’s associates.
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. He said over 73 percent of all child trafficking cases reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children involved Backpage.
“Taking down Backpage and obtaining a criminal conviction for the company and its CEO represents a significant victory in the fight against human trafficking in Texas and around the world,” Paxton said in a written statement. “I want to thank the attorney general of California, the U.S. Department of Justice, federal law enforcement officials, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, and the prosecutors and law enforcement in my office for their outstanding collaborative work on this investigation and prosecution.”
Ferrer was arrested at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston in October 2016 after arriving on a flight from Amsterdam, accused of running a “pimping conspiracy.” State officials concurrently executed a search warrant on the Backpage offices in Dallas’ Oak Lawn neighborhood.
Ferrer was indicted in Sacramento County Superior Court in California a month earlier. The 9-page indictment described 17 alleged incidents of pimping conspiracy, including accepting payments for posting escort advertisements featuring minors.
Federal prosecutors in Arizona unsealed a 93-count indictment on Monday against Backpage creators Michael Lacey, 69, James Larkin, 68, and five others. Ferrer was not charged in the indictment. It came three days after Backpage was seized – its homepage currently displays a notice that it was seized under an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service.
Federal prosecutors dispute Backpage’s claims that it bars customers offering illegal services and uses “computerized filters” and human moderators to edit wording of ads that explicitly offer sex for money, arguing the defendants acknowledge in company documents and private meetings they were aware of the prostitution being offered on the website.