Carl Ferrer, the CEO of Backpage.com, was arrested by authorities upon arriving in Texas on Thursday. His company, Backpage, is an online classified service that hosted typical classified advertisements, but also caters to unique ads.
Law enforcement picked up Carl Ferrer upon his arrival in Houston on a flight that had departed from Amsterdam. According to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, law enforcement also searched the company’s headquarters in Dallas.
Law enforcement made the arrest on a California warrant. Authorities produced the warrant through a joint investigation run by both California and Texas.
The basis of the warrant comes from court documents that allege that Ferrer’s company wittingly accepted money from underage prostitutes. The Texas attorney general also noted that there was evidence that “adult and child sex trafficking victims were forced into prostitution through escort ads that appeared repeatedly on Backpage.”
“Making money off the backs of innocent human beings by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is not acceptable in Texas,” Paxton said.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris also issued a press release saying the following.
“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal. Back page and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel.”
— Radiant Zadie (@ZadieLin) 7 October 2016
Authorities charged Ferrer with multiple felony charges. The charges include pimping, conspiracy to commit pimping, and pimping a minor.
California law defines felony pimping as soliciting customers for prostitution or making money from pimping.
Two other men were also charged with conspiracy to commit pimping. The California attorney general described James Larkin and Michael Lacy, the two other men charged, as major shareholders in Backpage.
Texas authorities are holding Ferrer in lieu of a $500,000 bond. He will also face an extradition hearing before authorities can return him to California.
A special agent working for the California Department of Justice told said that “for at least the last five years, defendants have known that their website is the United States hub for the illegal sex trade.” The agent also said that ads posted on the site included advertisements featuring children who were victims of trafficking.
Larkin and Lacey founded Backpage in 2004. In 2012, Backpage broke away from its parent company. Today, it is the second largest online classified website.
Reports created by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) said that some customers use the site for prostitution. The organization identified 2,000 instances of alleged child sex trafficking facilitated by Backpage in California alone.
NCMEC released a statement saying the following.
“NCMEC applauds the California and Texas attorneys general in pursuing criminal action against Backpage. As the leading non-profit working to end the sexual exploitation of children, NCMEC knows that the primary way children are sold for sex in this country is through the use of online classified advertising websites, such as Backpage.com. The Criminal action initiated today will lead to new hope for children who are sold for sex online.”
The investigation into Backpage began in 2014. Undercover agents used the site to arrange meetings with prostitutes. One of the people they met was a 16-year-old female. She told the agent that she had been forced into the sex trade when she was 12 or 13.
However, this is not the first run-in with the law for Backpage. When subpoenaed by the U.S. Congress to aid in an investigation into sex trafficking, Backpage refused to comply. The senate then held Backpage in contempt of congress.
It was the first time since 1995 that the senate chose to issue contempt charges.
Backpage has not commented on the arrests of its CEO or controlling shareholders.
[Featured Image By Texas Office Of The Attorney General/AP Images]