California Can Prosecute Backpage.com Execs on Money Laundering Charges

SACRAMENTO (CN) — California will pursue felony charges for the second time against Backpage.com after a state judge Wednesday allowed money laundering counts to stand, though he dismissed pimping charges against the website’s executives.

State prosecutors’ case took a hit as Sacramento Superior Court Judge Larry Brown tossed 15 conspiracy counts but allowed 25 money laundering charges to stand against the online publisher’s executives.

Brown’s order comes more than eight months after another Sacramento Superior Court judge dismissed pimping charges against Backpage.com in a case brought by former California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

The defendants claimed their October 2016 arrest was an election stunt for Harris’ U.S. Senate bid. The court ruled in December that the online classified ad site is shielded from liability under the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Prosecutors quickly filed new felony charges against the website’s CEO Carl Ferrer and founders James Larkin and Michael Lacey. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will be allowed to pursue financial charges against them.

“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,” Becerra said in a statement.

According to prosecutors, Backpage.com made millions of dollars letting pimps post sexual advertisements using underage children. They claim Backpage.com previously earned more than 90 percent of its revenue from adult ads.

Backpage.com took down its adult classifieds section in January before its executives refused to answer questions from a U.S. Senate panel investigating child sex trafficking.

Becerra said the state’s partial victory “brings us a step closer” to combating sex trafficking.

“We will vigorously prosecute this case,” he said.

The Backpage.com defendants are due back in state court on Oct. 3.

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