Head of ‘world’s top online brothel’ arrested on pimping charges

Agence France-Presse
Head of ‘world’s top online brothel’ arrested on pimping charges
Investigation reveals that the online advertising site Backpage.com has allegedly earned millions of dollars off of the illegal sex trade

SAN FRANCISCO, USA – The chief executive of the classified advertising website Backpage was arrested Thursday, October 6, US time, on pimping charges for heading what prosecutors described as an “online brothel.”

Carl Ferrer was taken into custody in Texas under the authority of an arrest warrant issued in California, according to the state’s attorney general Kamala Harris, following allegations that the website was a portal for human sex trafficking.

Backpage allows users to post advertisements for goods, job listings and services, but according to Harris also hosts ads for escort services and generated millions of dollars off of illegal sex trade.

“Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel,” Harris said in a release.

“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal.”

The arrest warrant contended that while Backpage hosts different kinds of ads, the majority of its revenue comes from a prostitution-related “adult services” section.

Backpage collects fees from people “offering sex for money using coded language and provocative photos,” according to prosecutors.

The site’s controlling shareholders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were also charged with conspiracy to commit pimping, Harris said.

Internal revenue reports at Backpage showed that during a 29-month period ending in March 2015, some 99% of Backpage’s worldwide revenue was directly tied to the adult section, according to the attorney general’s statement.

During that same period, Backpage’s self-reporting demonstrated that the operation took in more than $51 million in revenue in California alone, prosecutors said.

Over the past six years, Backpage has expanded operations, creating sites in cities throughout the world, Harris said.

A 3-year investigation turned up evidence that many Backpage ads for prostitution services involved sex-trafficking victims, some of them younger than 18 years old, according to Harris’s office.

Ferrer, 55, was arrested in Houston, Texas after returning on a flight from Amsterdam, according to prosecutors.

“Making money off the backs of innocent human beings by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is not acceptable in Texas,” said that state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton.

The arrest warrant also contended that Ferrer promoted Backpage by creating other prostitution-related sites that essentially acted as “an escort directory.” – Rappler.com

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