The 55-year-old CEO of a classified listings website notorious for its robust escort section was arrested yesterday in Texas on a California warrant. State Attorney General Kamala Harris announced in a press release that Carl Ferrer, who runs Backpage.com, will be charged with felony pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping.
Hundreds of trafficking cases across the country have been linked to Backpage.com, the New York Times reports, and an affidavit for a warrant filed by a California Department of Justice special agent alleges that “defendants have known that their website is the United States hub for the illegal sex trade and that many of the people advertised for commercial sex on Backpage are victims of sex trafficking, including children."
Court records show that authorities raided Backpage.com's Dallas headquarters, and the LA Times reports that Ferrer was taken into custody after he arrived on a flight to Houston from Amsterdam. His arrest is a culminating moment in a three-year investigation by the California Department of Justice that included undercover operations.
“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal,” Harris stated in a release. “Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel.” According to the Attorney General's office, 99 percent of Backpage’s income from January 2013 to March 2015 was "directly attributable" to its “adult” section, generating $51 million in revenue during that period in California alone.
Other conspiracy to commit pimping charges have been brought against Michael Lacey, 68, and James Larkin, 67, the founders and controlling shareholders of Backpage.com. A spokesperson for Harris told the LA Times that neither is in custody but that warrants have been issued for their arrests. Lacey and Larkin previously owned the Phoenix-based Village Voice Media Group, whose 13 alt-weekly publications included SF Weekly until the two sold them all off in 2012 in a move that separated Backpage.com, the duo's real cash cow, from its legit publication holdings. SF Weekly, for one, appeared relieved at the time to be separated from the sordid dealings of a website whose association with them had become a sore spot.
“They’re like the McDonald’s of trafficking,” Carol Robles-Román, who is president and chief executive of a women’s legal defense and education fund called Legal Momentum, characterized Backpage.com to the NYT. “They made is so easy.”
An anonymous 15-year-old girl identified in court documents claimed that Backpage “profits off of women and men." She added that, "I mean really, coming from someone my age, there is too much access, like it’s too easy for people get on it and post an ad.”
John Clark, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children was heartened by news of the charges and arrest. "NCMEC knows that the primary way children are sold for sex in this country is through the use of online classified advertising websites, such as Backpage.com," he said according to a press release.