Backpage.com pleads guilty to human trafficking

BY JULIA MANCHESTER - 04/12/18 09:26 PM EDT

Classified advertising website Backpage.com pleaded guilty to human trafficking charges in Texas on Thursday, the state's attorney general announced, while the company's CEO pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in California.

"Taking down Backpage and obtaining a criminal conviction for the company and its CEO represents a significant victory in the fight against human trafficking in Texas and around the world," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said in a statement. 

"I want to thank the Attorney General of California, the U.S. Department of Justice, federal law enforcement officials, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, and the prosecutors and law enforcement in my office for their outstanding collaborative work on this investigation and prosecution," he added.

Carl Ferrer, the CEO of the Dallas-based company, has reached a plea agreement and will not spend more than five years in prison, according to reports.

As part of the deal, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering while agreeing to cooperate with California prosecutors pursuing charges against the website's founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, who have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors have accused Backpage of permitting prostitution ads featuring underage sex trafficking victims.

The developments come after federal prosecutors on Monday indicted the website's executives on a series of money laundering and prostitution charges.

“For far too long, Backpage.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

“But this illegality stops right now. Last Friday, the Department of Justice seized Backpage, and it can no longer be used by criminals to promote and facilitate human trafficking.”