This Monday, April 9th, the Justice Department released an indictment against Backpage executives for their illicit activity on the predominantly prostitution/sexual trafficking website Backpage.com:
The Justice Department today announced the seizure of Backpage.com, the Internet’s leading forum for prostitution ads, including ads depicting the prostitution of children. Additionally, seven individuals have been charged in a 93-count federal indictment with the crimes of conspiracy to facilitate prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce, facilitating prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce, conspiracy to commit money laundering, concealment money laundering, international promotional money laundering, and transactional money laundering.|
The seven defendants charged in the indictment are Michael Lacey, 69, of Paradise Valley, Arizona; James Larkin, 68, of Paradise Valley, Arizona; Scott Spear, 67, of Scottsdale, Arizona; John E. “Jed” Brunst, 66, of Phoenix, Arizona; Daniel Hyer, 49, of Dallas, Texas; Andrew Padilla, 45, of Plano, Texas and Jaala Joye Vaught, 37, of Addison, Texas.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange for the District of Arizona, U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna of the Central District of California, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, U.S. Postal Inspection Service Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell and Chief Don Fort of Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.
“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,” said Attorney General Sessions. “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. I want to thank everyone who made this important seizure possible: all of our dedicated and committed professionals in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and our U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Arizona, the FBI, our partners with the IRS Criminal Investigation, our Postal Inspectors, and the Texas and California Attorney Generals’ offices. With their help, we have put an end to the violence, abuse, and heartache that has been perpetrated using this site, and we have taken a major step toward keeping women and children across America safe.”
“Backpage has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking, placing profits over the well-being and safety of the many thousands of women and children who were victimized by its practices,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange. “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. Some of the internal emails and company documents described in the indictment are shocking in their callousness.”
“This website will no longer serve as a platform for human traffickers to thrive, and those who were complicit in its use to exploit human beings for monetary gain will be held accountable for their heinous actions,” said FBI Director Wray. “Whether on the street or on the Internet, sex trafficking will not be tolerated. Together with our law enforcement partners, the FBI will continue to vigorously combat this activity and protect those who are victimized.”
“The events of last Friday and today are a big win, not only for the agents who investigated these crimes, but more importantly for the victims, including children, who were harmed as a consequence of the alleged actions of Backpage.com,” said Chief Postal Inspector Cottrell. “By laundering the illegal gains of an enterprise, Backpage perpetuated the exploitation of victims and continued to finance their business. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting our customers by stopping the money laundering to ensure the cycle of victimization ends.”
“An indictment of this magnitude is particularly troubling when you look at the various layers of corruption and exploitation that are alleged to have occurred,” said IRS-CI Chief Fort. “The masterminds behind Backpage are not only alleged to have committed egregious amounts of financial crimes such as money laundering, they did so at the expense of innocent women and children. While these types of investigations can be made more challenging with the use of virtual currency, offshore banking, and the anonymity of the Internet, it should serve as an example to all criminals that there is not a place they can hide where we will not find them.”
To read the full indictment, click here. You should definitely give it a read. If anything, it is a very interesting (albeit saddening) point-by-point description of Backpage’s operations for the past decade.
Now, going to backpage.com will give you the lovely Fed-Screen-Of-Death:
The three main guys involved are James Larkin, Michael Lacey, and Carl Ferrer.
7 were charged in total, for now. Here are the self-created millionaires from Backpage; soon to be jailbirds from Backpage:
The last one, Carl Ferrer, is the (now former) co-founder and CEO of Backpage. He recently plead guilty to conspiracy and money laundering, and was the one that handed over the website for the Feds to take over.
An interesting tidbit from azfamily.com:
According to his plea agreement, Ferrer admitted that he had long been aware that the great majority of Backpage’s “escort” and “adult” 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 further admitted that he conspired with other Backpage principals to find ways to knowingly facilitate the state-law prostitution crimes being committed by Backpage’s customers. For example, he worked with his co-conspirators to create “moderation” processes through which Backpage would remove terms and pictures that were particularly indicative of prostitution and then publish a revised version of the ad.
Ferrer admitted that these editing practices were only one component of an overall, company-wide culture and policy of concealing and refusing to officially acknowledge the true nature of the services being offered in Backpage’s “escort” and “adult” ads.
In his plea agreement, Ferrer also admitted that he conspired with other Backpage principals to engage in various money laundering offenses.
According to the agreement, since 2004, Backpage has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from publishing “escort” and “adult” ads. Over time, many banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions refused to do business with Backpage due to the illegal nature of its business.
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.
Hopefully, they get them all on every charge possible and they spend the rest of their lives in jail.
I’ve written about similar issues plenty of times before.
But I can’t help but wonder, where will these people go next? When the Feds shut down The Silk Road on the Tor Network, about 7 new versions appeared within two weeks.
Too much profit incentive, not enough swift/appropriate justice. These guys operated for years and years. Became millionaires. Our justice system is too slow when the number of victims in indictments are in the “hundreds or thousands”.
Even if I am pessimistic about the long-term results, I’m at least happy to finally see some punishment.