CEO of shuttered sex classifieds site Backpage pleads guilty

Ex-teacher Pleads Guilty Plans to Apologize	 	 	 			Gaspare Gambino

"Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it is happening in our own backyard", California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the plea deal.

"It is my honest hope that my client's tenacity and today's news of Backpage.com's acknowledgment of its guilt in facilitating human trafficking will encourage other survivors of human trafficking to come forward, tell their stories, and hold wrongdoers accountable", he said. He also admitted to conspiring with others at the company to launder the proceeds from such ads after credit card companies and banks refused to do business with the site. He also agreed to cooperate in the ongoing California prosecution of Backpage.com founders Michael Lacey, and James Larkin. The company also pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Texas.

Five employees of the site also were arrested and pleaded not guilty, but Lacey and Larkin are the only ones in jail.

The state Attorney General's Office said Thursday that Ferrer will cooperate with prosecutors in the case against Larkin and Lacey, which will continue in Sacramento Superior Court.

Backpage - accused of being the biggest website for prostitution in the world, with its classifieds used to promote paid-for sex with minors and victims of human trafficking - was abruptly shut down by U.S. authorities on April 6.

The state-level pleas were demanded from the federal plea agreements Mr. Ferrer and Backpage entered on April 5 in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona.

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.

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Although he has agreed to testify against other executives at Backpage, the California plea agreement indicates that Ferrer will face up to five years in prison; sentences handed down in Arizona and Texas would run along the same time period.

The Dutch-owned company is incorporated in DE, but its principal place of business is in Dallas.

Ferrer's guilty pleas were filed in state courts in California and Texas, as well as in federal court in Arizona.

Government officials touted the indictment and seizure of the popular classified ads website as a major step in the fight against sex trafficking.

In October 2016, Attorney General Paxton's Law Enforcement Division arrested Ferrer in Houston.

The site was the dominant hub for sex workers to advertise their services, and it had come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as the USA government made efforts to crack down on sex trafficking with legislation like the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA), which President Trump signed this week.

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