Backpage, an alternative classified site known widely for their escorting ads, faced a company shakedown on Thursday (Oct. 6) after CEO Carl Ferrer and two of the site’s shareholders were arrested on felony pimping charges.
The LA Times reports the three-year investigation was led by state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who have criticized the site for spearheading online brothels with women and children. Ferrer was taken into custody in Houston after arriving on a flight from Amsterdam. The investigation uncovered Ferrer profited millions from escort ads that appeared on the site. Those promoted in the ads were child sex trafficking victims. You might remember Backpage being a focal point in the story of Zola’s viral Twitter tale in 2015 where she created an ad for “Jess” during her spring break trip gone terribly wrong.
Founded in Dallas back in 2004, Ferrer and shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin, are collectively facing charges of conspiracy to commit pimping. In addition to the felony charge, Ferrer is also facing multiple accounts of pimping a minor. Court documents showed undercover agents found workers, many of them teenagers from California, were either using the site by force from pimps to advertise themselves.
The posts featured nude photos of teens with sexual price lists in coded languages. Backpage gained 15% ($55 million) of its revenue from the state last year. As shareholders, Lacey and Larkin received bonuses totaling $10 million each in 2014. Between January 2013 to March 2015, nearly all of Backpage’s worldwide income was generated from the site’s “adult” channel, not their vehicle or renting sections.
“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal,” Harris said. “Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel.”
Other sites have closed its doors to adult content, with Craigslist ending their erotic service ads in 2010 and federal officials terminating the prostitution site myRedbook.com in 2015. Ferrer was also accused to “cross-publishing” the adult ads on BigCity.com and EvilEmpire.com, allowing more profit for the company.
If convicted of the charges, Ferrer will face up to 22 years in prison. A court date hasn’t been announced.