AUSTIN – The Attorneys General of Texas and California both announced the entry of guilty pleas by Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, with Texas additionally securing a guilty plea on the part of the company itself to charges of human trafficking.
According to a statement released by office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Ferrer “will be sentenced to up to five years in prison once he’s fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement,” and his “cooperation in the ongoing investigation into Backpage could lead to other criminal charges against individuals associated with the company.”
The statement refers to Backpage as the “largest online sex trafficking marketplace in the world,” and claims the site was “involved in 73 percent of all child trafficking cases reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”
“Taking down Backpage and obtaining a criminal conviction for the company and its CEO represents a significant victory in the fight against human trafficking in Texas and around the world,” Paxton said.
In California, Ferrer pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering and has agreed to cooperate with an ongoing investigation of two “controlling shareholders” of the site, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, according to a statement released by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it is happening in our own backyard,” Becerra said. “The shutdown of Backpage.com is a tremendous victory for the survivors and their families. And the conviction of CEO Ferrer is a game-changer in combatting human trafficking in California, indeed worldwide.”
Under the terms of his plea agreement in California, Ferrer not only entered a guilty plea on the conspiracy and money laundering charges and agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of Lacey and Larkin, he must also “shut down Backpage.com throughout the world, surrender operating rights to all internet domains used to operate Backpage.com” and “make Backpage.com data available to law enforcement,” according to the statement released by Becerra’s office.
Both statements reference the recent signing of the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” (SESTA), but SESTA played no role in either investigation, as the Act was not signed by President Donald Trump until Wednesday. Becerra’s statement touted his role in supporting the SESTA legislation, noting that last year he “traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify before the U.S. Senate to advance legislation that would support the efforts of state attorneys general to prosecute sex traffickers.”
Larkin, meanwhile, is in federal custody in Arizona, where he will likely remain through the weekend. According to a report from the Arizona Republic, before Larkin can be released on bond, federal officials need to test the GPS locating equipment at his home, something which won’t be done until Monday. U.S. District Magistrate Judge Bridget Bade has set Larkin’s hearing for 4 p.m. the same day.
Lacey’s release on bond reportedly was delayed for the same reason, with the testing scheduled to take place yesterday. While it’s not clear whether the testing did take place yesterday, Lacey has a hearing today which “could result in his release,” according to the Republic.
Lacey faces 79 total counts, 50 of which are for facilitating prostitution, while the other 29 involve conspiracy and money laundering. Larkin has been indicted on 70 counts, 50 for facilitating prostitution, 18 involving money laundering and two for conspiracy.