Federal authorities have charged the two founders of classified site Backpage.com, along with five other employees, with laundering money and facilitating prostitution. According to The Washington Post, the Justice Department claims Backpage took “consistent and concerted action” to knowingly allow illegal ads for sex work. The indictment says that “virtually every dollar flowing into Backpage’s coffers represents the proceeds of illegal activity.”
Law enforcement agencies seized Backpage’s servers last week, and co-founder Michael Lacey was charged in a sealed 93-count indictment, which has now been revealed. Lacey, as well as his co-founder James Larkin, were already charged with violating California money laundering laws, although a judge threw out state-level pimping charges.
Backpage’s “adult” classified ads pages made it a legal target for years, with critics claiming that it facilitated sex trafficking. The site’s owners said they were exercising their right to freedom of speech, and sex workers argued that Backpage allowed them to work more safely by screening clients. The site finally closed down the adult section last year.
These specific charges are unrelated to the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, a controversial bill that would make website operators liable for illegal content posted to their sites. That bill is still awaiting Trump’s signature, but it’s already had an effect on other classified sites, leading Craigslist to pull its personal ads section.