Crime - Sacto 911

Backpage.com execs face charges as ‘hub for human trafficking’

Sex worker advocate says backpage.com case prosecuting the wrong people

Kristen DiAngelo speaks after backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer and controlling shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin appear in Sacramento Superior Court on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.
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Kristen DiAngelo speaks after backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer and controlling shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin appear in Sacramento Superior Court on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.

Embattled Backpage.com executives facing dozens of charges tied to alleged sex trafficking on the website will return to a Sacramento courtroom for a February arraignment, a judge ordered Tuesday.

Carl Ferrer and partners – former Village Voice and Phoenix New Times owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin – awaited their arraignment Tuesday before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Curtis Fiorini. The arraignment delay comes days after defiant defense attorneys’ motions to dismiss new charges that state attorney general’s prosecutors filed this month.

The men face 39 criminal counts for allegedly facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking through the online advertising website’s now-closed adult services section. The three will return Feb. 9 for further arraignment, at which attorneys will argue the dismissal motion and learn whether a judge will impose bail on the men.

State prosecutors allege that the Backpage executives are profiteers who “own and operate the leading online market place for commercial sex … a hub for human trafficking and particularly the trafficking of children” in the state’s response to the defense dismissal motion.

The AG does not get yet another bite at the apple.

Defense attorneys, asking the court to enforce a Dec. 9 order that dismissed the original charges against backpage.com executives

They say new evidence shows Backpage is a multimillion-dollar money laundering operation that enriched itself with cash from the illegal sex trade by collecting prostitution earnings from adults, children and their pimps across California and creating other websites to rake in more cash.

Backpage’s defense team, in its motion, blasted the state prosecutors’ new money-laundering charges as “utter nonsense,” while accusing the attorney general’s office of refiling the original pimping, pandering and conspiracy charges it filed last fall in violation of the December court ruling that threw them out.

“The AG does not get yet another bite at the apple,” defense attorneys wrote in their motion asking the court to enforce a Dec. 9 order that dismissed the original charges and send the case back to Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman. Bowman ruled in December that Backpage is protected under federal Communications Decency Act statutes that shield third-party content providers from prosecution.

But attorney general’s prosecutors argue in the new motion that the federal act is not a defense for money laundering, doesn’t shield internet providers from state criminal liability and does not protect internet providers when they develop content.

The state’s case was recently bolstered by a blistering Senate investigations subcommittee report released this month alleging Backpage hid criminal conduct, scrubbed signpost sex trafficking and child sex trafficking terms such as “Lolita” and “amber alert,” and coached the site’s users on how to post ads that would evade scrutiny.

Backpage closed its adult services section the night of the report’s release, citing “unconstitutional government censorship.”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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