Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer pleads guilty, says he knew site had become hub of online prostitution
The chief executive officer (CEO) of Backpage.com, a website accused of enabling prostitution and sex trafficking of minors, on Thursday pleaded guilty to charges in state courts in Texas and California and federal charges in Arizona.
Carl Ferrer, in plea deal cut with state and federal prosecutors, admitted he knew the site had become a marketplace for online prostitution, reports state.
Ferrer was facing multiple criminal investigations over the role he played in the site's operation. However, with the plea deal, he could get a possible prison term of not more than five years, according to Politico.
The 57-year-old, in a written statement, acknowledged: "I have long been aware that the vast majority of these advertisements are, in fact, advertisements for prostitution services (which are not protected by the First Amendment and which are illegal in 49 states and much of Nevada)."
The written statement was reportedly a part of the plea bargain.
The website was under investigation for a long time and during a Senate probe, Ferrer and other Backpage officials had claimed that they were cracking down on such advertising. However, the CEO, in his statement, admitted that the claims were not sincere.
"I worked with my co-conspirators to create 'moderation' processes through which Backpage would remove terms and pictures that were particularly indicative of prostitution and then publish a revised version of the ad. It was merely intended to create a veneer of deniability for Backpage," Ferrer said in his plea document.
Federal agents took down the website last week. Backpage.com's homepage now displays a notice which states that it has been seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Postal Inspection Service (PIS) as part of an enforcement action.
The website allows users to create posts to sell certain items, look for a roommate, post job openings, list upcoming events and even participate in forums.
However, it is also infamous for listing adult escorts and other sexual services. Authorities have reportedly said that the sexual services advertising has proved very lucrative for the site.
One of the founders of Backpage.com and a founder of the weekly newspaper Phoenix New Time, Michael Lacey, was also charged in the case, bringing an end to a long-suspected human-trafficking investigation.
Reports state that the authorities also cracked down on other affiliated websites after multiple raids. Ferrer has agreed to cooperate with authorities to shut down those sites too.
The crackdown on the website began ever since multiple anti-sex trafficking groups and state attorney generals said that it facilitated sex trafficking and prostitution. Reports state that a senate probe into the website concluded that it selectively edited words out.