California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Friday that her office has filed new criminal charges against Carl Ferrer, chief executive officer of the online advertising website Backpage.com, as well as Michael Lacey and James Larkin, controlling shareholders of Backpage.
The charges, based on new evidence, include 26 counts of money laundering. The complaint alleges that the defendants created multiple corporate entities to launder money and circumvent financial institutions’ refusal to process Backpage transactions because of overtly sexual material, according to an attorney general’s office news release. Backpage.com is a major international website advertising escort services.
The defendants also are charged with 13 counts of pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping. In seven of the pimping counts, the victims are children, according to the announcement. In addition, the complaint alleges that the defendants created other sites to increase the company’s prostitution-related revenue and developed content for those sites by using victims’ photographs or information without their knowledge.
The attorney general’s office previously filed pimping charges against the men, calling the website the “world’s top online brothel.” But Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman rejected the charges earlier this month, siding with attorneys for the men and the website in ruling that the speech was allowed under the federal Communications Decency Act.
The section of the act that applies to the case protects websites from being held accountable for content posted by third parties.
Harris said at the time that she disagreed with the court’s ruling and would pursue other avenues under the law to hold the operators accountable.
“By creating an online brothel – a hotbed of illicit and exploitative activity – Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey and James Larkin preyed on vulnerable victims, including children, and profited from their exploitation,” Harris said in a written statement Friday. “My office will not turn a blind eye to this criminal behavior simply because the defendants are exploiting and pimping victims on the internet rather than on a street corner.”
The defendants are to be arraigned on the new felony charges Jan. 11 in Sacramento Superior Court. The attorney general’s office encourages anyone who was a victim of trafficking via Backpage to file a report with the California Department of Justice by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.