- The Washington Times
Friday, April 6, 2018

The federal government has shut down Backpage.com and raided the homes of the Arizona-based owners of the controversial website repeatedly accused of facilitating and even promoting prostitution and sex trafficking.

The website was seized on Friday, according to a notice on the site from the federal authorities announcing the action.

“[B]ackpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigative Division with analytical assistance form the Joint Regional Intelligence Center,” the announcement said.

The announcement also listed other agencies involved in the apparent seizure, including the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for California, Texas and Arizona.

Last year, a Senate panel accused the site of facilitating sex trafficking, including minors.

That led to last month’s passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act to make it easier for law enforcement to target websites alleged to have engaged in the facilitation of prostitution.

Backpage.com lets users create posts to sell items, seek a roommate, participate in forums, list upcoming events or post job openings, but an estimated 90 percent of its revenue comes from its listings of adult escorts and other sexual services, according to the California Department of Justice.

Last year, the creators of the website were charged with money laundering in California.

State prosecutors in California have said the website’s chief executive Carl Ferrer and founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin illegally funneled money through multiple companies and created various websites to get around banks that refused to process transactions. They have pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Lacey and Mr. Larkin are former owners of the Village Voice and the Phoenix New Times, but retained ownership of Backpage.com.

The Arizona Republic reported “law-enforcement activity” Friday at the Sedona, Ariz.-area home of Mr. Lacey and the Paradise Valley home of Mr. Larkin.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, praised Friday’s action as “an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking.”

“This builds on the historic effort in Congress to reform the law that for too long has protected websites like Backpage from being held liable for enabling the sale of young women and children,” he said in a statement, the New York Times reported.

The senator’s wife, Cindy McCain, who has been an outspoken advocate against human trafficking, told the Republic that she had heard federal officials had raided every office of Backpage worldwide.

“They’ve confiscated everything and shut the website down,” she said.

She called it a “good day” in the fight against human trafficking.

In 2007, Mr. Lacey and Mr. Larkin were arrested by then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office for publishing information about a secret grand jury subpoena demanding information on its stories and online readers.

They won a $3.75 million settlement from the Maricopa County government as a result of the now-discredited arrests.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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