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Wagner Responds to Arrest of Backpage.com CEO For Sex Trafficking

Oct 7, 2016
Press Release

Ballwin, Mo – Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO-02) released the below statement following news of the arrest of Backpage.com’s CEO on felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping:

“Three years ago, when I first arrived in Congress, we set our sights on Backpage.com and other marketers of the sex trafficking industry. We passed my legislation, the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act last year with the goal to shut down marketplaces just like Backpage.com. 

“The arrest of the Backpage.com CEO is a great start, but there is so much more to be done. That’s why all week I have met with dozens of law enforcement officials, hospital and medical personnel, victim and survivor advocates, and visited safe houses in the St. Louis area to see what more we can do to end the scourge of modern day slavery in our own neighborhoods. This arrest marks the first step to permanently shutting down predators such as Backpage.com, and I encourage prosecutors to continue to use all of the tools at their disposal, including the SAVE Act. Let’s cheer this victory, yet resolve to do more and fight for these women, men and children who are still being victimized today.”


Summary of the SAVE Act:

  • In May 2015, as part of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S. 178), the SAVE Act was signed into law by President Obama.
  • Through easily accessible websites that advertise the victims of sex trafficking, predators can go online and have children sent to their hotel rooms as easily as if they were ordering a pizza.
  • Online classified services, such as Backpage.com, are the vehicles for advertising the victims of the child sex trade to the world.
  • The traffickers pay online classified websites like Backpage.com to display their messages, these websites accordingly reap enormous profits.
  • Companies that base their business models off of profits made by selling sex with children should not be allowed to operate.
  • The Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act criminalizes this behavior, thereby dramatically reducing the sexual victimization of vulnerable children in the United States.
  • The SAVE Act is designed to close Internet marketplaces that host advertisements for the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children.
  • The SAVE Act amends the federal criminal code’s “offenses” section to make it unlawful for Backpage.com and similar websites to knowingly distribute advertising that offers a commercial sex act in a manner prohibited under existing federal sex trafficking statutes.
  • The protections included in the SAVE Act apply to two classes of victim: underage children and those who are being forced to engage in commercial sex acts against their will.
  • This simple change has made it easier for law enforcement to prosecute those that facilitate sex trafficking by advertising the victims.



Backpage.com Raided, CEO Arrested for Sex-Trafficking¸ Associated Press



State agents raided the Dallas headquarters of adult classified ad portal Backpage and arrested Chief Executive Officer Carl Ferrer on Thursday following allegations that adult and child sex-trafficking victims had been forced into prostitution through escort ads posted on the site.

Ferrer, 55, was arrested on a California warrant after arriving at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport on a flight from Amsterdam.

"Making money off the backs of innocent human beings by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is not acceptable in Texas," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris said that Ferrer was arrested on felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping. He is being held in lieu of $500,000 bond and will face an extradition hearing before he can be returned to California.

"Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal," said Harris, a Democrat who is running for the U.S. Senate in next month's election. "Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world's top online brothel."

An attorney representing Backpage, Liz McDougall, did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages left by The Associated Press.

The site's controlling shareholders, Michael Lacey, 68, and James Larkin, 67, have been charged with conspiracy to commit pimping, Harris said in a statement. Neither of them has been taken into custody by late Thursday although warrants have been issued for their arrest. Under California's law, felony pimping is defined as making money off of prostitutes or soliciting customers for prostitution.

Lacey and Larkin are former owners of the Village Voice and the Phoenix New Times. An attorney who previously represented the two men, Michael Manning, did not immediately respond to a telephone message from The AP.

Backpage advertises a wide range of services, but the California arrest warrant alleges that internal business records obtained through a search warrant show that 99 percent its revenue came from its adult services section between January 2013 and March 2015. California officials said the site collects fees from users who use coded language and nearly nude photos to offer sex for money.

Worldwide revenue from sex ads topped $3.1 million in just one week last year, according to a court affidavit. It says Ferrer expanded Backpage's share of online sex marketing by creating affiliated sites including EvilEmpire.com and BigCity.com with related content.

The site operates in hundreds of cities worldwide, authorities said, including more than 30 in California. It collected $2.5 million per month just from California, or more than $51 million during the 29 months covered by the internal revenue reports.

Larkin and Lacey each received $10 million bonuses from the website in September 2014, according to the court filing. It says Backpage was created in 2004, but since 2014 has been owned by a Netherlands-based company that has Ferrer as its only named partner.

California authorities said the state's three-year investigation found many of the ads include victims of sex trafficking including children under the age of 18.

One of the advertisers, identified only as 15-year-old "E.S.," ''was forced into prostitution at the age of 13 by her pimp," according to an affidavit filed with the complaint. She used other online advertising services until they were shut down, the court filing says, when she turned to Backpage.

"I mean really, coming from someone my age, there is too much access, like it's too easy for people to get on it and post an ad," she told California Special Agent Brian Fichtner, according to his affidavit.

California officials said their investigation was prompted in part by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which reported 2,900 instances to California authorities since 2012 when suspected child sex trafficking occurred using Backpage.

The criminal complaint includes allegations that five minors, three of them including "E.S." under age 16, paid to post advertisements on Backpage.

The charges against Ferrer could bring him nearly 22 years in prison, while Larkin and Lacey face a maximum six years.