Feds charge Backpage execs with promoting prostitution, money laundering

Feds charge Backpage execs with promoting prostitution, money laundering
© Greg Nash

Federal prosecutors on Monday indicted executives for Backpage.com on a series of money laundering and prostitution charges.

The 93-count indictment was unsealed days after authorities seized the classified ads site and reportedly raided the Arizona home of Michael Lacey, one of Backpage’s founders who was named among the seven defendants.

“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,” Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Memo: Trump tweets cross into new territory Sessions goes after Tuberville's coaching record in challenging him to debate The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE said in a statement. “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.”

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Prosecutors are accusing Backpage of allowing prostitution ads featuring underage sex-trafficking victims.

The charges come more than a year after a Senate investigations panel accused Backpage executives of knowingly facilitating sex trafficking on its site.

That investigation also spawned a controversial bill aimed at cracking down on online sex trafficking, which critics believe could hurt internet platforms’ ability to promote free expression online. The bill, called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, passed the House and Senate overwhelmingly this year and is awaiting the president’s signature.

“Our bipartisan investigation into Backpage uncovered new evidence that was handed over to the Department of Justice more than 10 months ago,” Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOn The Money: McConnell: Talking about fifth coronavirus bill 'in next month or so' | Boosted unemployment benefits on the chopping block | Women suffering steeper job losses from COVID-19 Kudlow: 0-per-week boost to unemployment benefits won't 'survive the next round of talks' Congress headed toward unemployment showdown MORE (R-Ohio), who has led the legislative effort, said in a statement. “Our bipartisan work has made a significant difference in raising awareness of these trafficking crimes and informed our efforts to craft a narrow legislative solution that is now ready to be signed into law.”