The chief executive of Backpage.com, a website that prosecutors allege operated as a hub for illegal prostitution-related advertising, was transferred to the Sacramento County Main Jail late Friday night after his arrest in Texas the day before.
Carl Ferrer, 55, was arrested in Houston on Thursday on a California warrant as he returned on an international flight, according to a news release by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
He is being held without bail in Sacramento, according to the county jail.
Ferrer faces several felony charges in connection with ads posted on the Backpage website, including pimping of a minor, pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping, according to the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
In a news release, Harris said Ferrer used Backpage.com to profit from illegal advertising on its “adult services” section. The advertisements used coded language and nearly nude photographs, according to the statement.
“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal,” Harris said in the statement. “Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel.”
Backpage controlling shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin also face criminal charges of conspiracy to commit pimping, according to the news release.
The arrest followed a three-year investigation into the website by the California Department of Justice. Conducted by Brian Fichtner, a special agent with the department, the investigation found that Ferrer, along with Lacey and Larkin, operated the website knowing that it was being used to advertise prostitution, including with adult and child victims of sex trafficking, according to the case affidavit.
In California alone, 2,900 incidents of suspected child sex trafficking that occurred through Backpage were reported to law enforcement by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children since 2012, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit included accounts of female sex trafficking victims and escorts, several of whom posted Backpage ads in the Sacramento area. A 16-year-old girl, identified only as “A.C.,” said she was a sex trafficking victim who used the website to find “dates.”
Many of those meetings resulted in her having sex for money, according to the documents. When asked if she ever had problems posting ads, the girl replied, “Well no, because how are they supposed to know that I’m underage?” Her ads were found in the Sacramento postings, according to the document.
The investigation also found that 99 percent of the website’s worldwide income came from its adult section from January 2013 to March 2015. In California, roughly 98 percent of Backpage’s $51 million in self-reported revenue was made through the website’s adult entertainment advertising within that same time frame, according to the attorney general’s office news release.
Ferrer is scheduled to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.