Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. Under his plea agreement, Ferrer agreed to make the company's data available to law enforcement as investigations and prosecutions continue. The guilty pleas are the latest in a cascade of developments in the last week against the company founded by the former owners of the Village Voice in New York City, Michael Lacey, 69, and James Larkin, The company founders were among Backpage officials indicted by a federal grand jury in Arizona.
Attorneys for the company and Lacey, Larkin and Ferrer did not respond to multiple telephone and email messages from The Associated Press. Justice Department also seized and shut down the website, and Ferrer's federal plea deal requires him to help the government seize all the company's assets. The federal plea deal says any prison sentence Ferrer would face would run concurrent with his 5-year terms in Texas and California.
He called Ferrer's plea "a game-changer in combatting human trafficking in California, indeed worldwide. Larkin and Lacey remain jailed in Arizona while awaiting hearings on whether they should be released after pleading not guilty to federal charges alleging they helped publish ads for sexual services. Five employees of the site also were arrested and pleaded not guilty, but Lacey and Larkin are the only ones in jail. Lacey and Larkin also earlier pleaded not guilty in California after Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Larry Brown last year allowed the state to continue with money laundering charges.
But Brown threw out pimping conspiracy and other state charges against Backpage's operators. Brown ruled that the charges are barred by a federal law protecting free speech that grants immunity to websites posting content from others. President Donald Trump this week signed a law making it easier to prosecute website operators in the future. Texas state agents raided the Dallas headquarters of Backpage and arrested Ferrer on a California warrant after he arrived at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport on a flight from Amsterdam on Oct.
The Dutch-owned company is incorporated in Delaware, but its principal place of business is in Dallas. Paxon called Thursday's pleas "a significant victory in the fight against human trafficking in Texas and around the world.
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Website founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin are charged with facilitating prostitution and money laundering. The indictment said many ads published on Backpage. While the site maintains it diligently tries to prevent prostitution ads, it still allows them and has declined to take steps to confront the problem, the indictment said.
Larry Kazan, an attorney representing Lacey, didn't return a phone call seeking comment on the indictment. Court records didn't list a lawyer for Larkin. Executive vice-president Scott Spear was charged with facilitating prostitution and money laundering, while chief financial officer John Brunst was charged with money laundering. Sales and marketing director Dan Hyer, operations manager Andrew Padilla and assistant operations manager Joye Vaught also were charged with facilitating prostitution.
The indictment alleged that Padilla threatened to fire any employee who acknowledged in writing that the escorts depicted in ads were actually prostitutes. There were no lawyers listed in court records for Spear, Brunst, Hyer and Padilla. Stephen Weiss, attorney for Vaught, didn't immediately return a call Monday seeking comment. The seven people charged in the federal indictment are accused of trying to sanitize ads by removing photos and words that were indicative of prostitution and then publishing a revised version of the notices.
It also has had listings for adult escorts and other sexual services, and authorities say advertising related to those services has been extremely lucrative. Authorities say online sex ads appeal to people who want to pay for sex but don't want to go to locations where they would risk arrest.
Last year, the website's chief executive Carl Ferrer, along with Lacey and Larkin, pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges in California, where state prosecutors said the website operators had illegally funneled money through multiple companies and created various websites to get around banks that refused to process transactions.
The California state attorney general's office also had moved to file pimping conspiracy and other charges against the Backpage. However, a judge dismissed them, saying they relate to the publishing of sex-related advertisements and could not be filed because of a federal law protecting free speech that grants immunity to websites that post content created by others.
Officials have struggled with how to deal with the website without violating free speech protections. Federal officials say Backpage. The indictment says Lacey and Larkin purportedly sold their interest in Backpage. Lacey and Larkin were arrested in Arizona by then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office in for publishing information about a secret grand jury subpoena demanding information on its stories and online readers.
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