California deems Backpage.com a brothel, arrests the CEO
October 7, 2016
Backpage.com is the world’s top online brothel, and its CEO, Carl Ferrer, is a pimp, according to the California Attorney General’s Office. Authorities have arrested Ferrer on felony charges of pimping, pimping a minor and conspiracy to commit pimping.
Backpage hosts ads for a variety of items and services, but the vast majority of its revenue comes from prostitution-related ads in its adult services section, an attorney general’s office press release states. The company collects fees from users who post “escort” ads, which offer sex for money using coded language and near-nude photos.
In addition to Ferrer, the controlling shareholders of Backpage, Michael Lacey and James Larrkin, are also facing charges of conspiracy to commit pimping.
“Raking in millions of dollars from trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal,” Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement. “Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel.”
Harris said the investigators, attorneys and special agents who have worked on the case are protecting thousands of victims of sex trafficking, some of whom are minors. Harris is currently campaigning to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer in the United States Senate.
Internal reports show that between Jan. 2013 and March 2015, 99 percent of Backpage’s worldwide income came from its adult section, according to the attorney general’s office. During that period, Backpage’s revenue from California totalled more than $51 million, the company’s self-reporting shows.
There are currently 34 California cities listed on the website. They include San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.
Investigators determined Ferrer took data from Backpage users and created affiliate sites, like EvilEmpire.com and BigCity.com, in attempt to control more of the online sex advertising market. EvilEmpire.com featured photos and contact information, yet there was no apparent way for users to directly submit content.
A three-year California Department of Justice investigation into Backpage included stings in which agents used escort ads to arrange meetings with both prostitutes and johns.
The state DOJ encourages anyone who was a victim of trafficking via Backpage to file a report by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.