Prosecutors Reveal New Details on Site Shutdown Case

Three days after prosecutors in the criminal case against classified ad site revealed that the site’s CEO had copped a plea and was now cooperating with the feds in their case against the Backpage founders, a local Arizona district attorney released new details about one of the cases that led to allegations of “sex trafficking” in the 93-count indictment against Backpage and its execs.

Backpage as a corporate entity was charged with trafficking, and entered a guilty plea to that charge last week. But none of the seven people named in the federal indictment was charged with “sex trafficking.”

Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, 57, entered a guilty plea to one federal felony count of conspiracy, while also pleading guilty to state money laundering and conspiracy charges in California and Texas. He has agreed to provide information and testify against his former colleagues, including Backpage founders Michael Lacey, 69, and James Larkin, 68, both of Arizona.

In a Monday press briefing, a Texas prosecutor revealed that the “human trafficking” charge which resulted in a guilty plea from Backpage was the result of a case in Corpus Christi, Texas, in which 29-year-old Jovan Miles was was convicted of trafficking a 15-year-old girl, placing ads for her sexual services on

Houston police became aware that the 15-year-old was being offered for prostitution when they saw her advertisement on Backpage, then tracking the girl to a Days Inn motel room in Corpus Christi. Miles paid for the Backpage ad, as well as the motel room, according to the charges against him. Miles claimed that he believed the girl was over 18, and that she was engaging in prostitution voluntarily. He was also accused of sexually assaulting her multiple times.

Miles was ultimately sentenced in 2015 to 40 years behind bars. The case of the 15-year-old girl, a runaway, was cited in the indictment against Backpage, without naming Miles.

But advocacy groups and sex workers say that the federal shutdown of Backpage on April 6 has actually made life more dangerous for individuals in the sex work industry, some even posting online stories detailing how Backpage allowed them to screen customers, filtering out those who appeared to pose a safety threat.

“For all its repulsive profiteering, Backpage was still sex workers’ best shot at staying safe. ... The website spared them from exploitative forces operating in the even seedier underground of the sex economy,” wrote Washington Post Opinion page editor Molly Roberts. “Backpage, former users say, freed them from dependency on pimps. The ability to cross-check clients with other sex workers, or even chat with clients ahead of time, helped them avoid abusive johns. The site also allowed them to schedule indoor dates and avoid the streets.”

Organizers of the national Women’s March movement also expressed alarm at the Backpage shutdown, calling it “an absolute crisis for sex workers who rely on the site to safely get in touch with clients. Sex workers rights are women’s rights,” the Women’s March added, in a post to its Twitter account. Another advocacy group, the Collective Action For Safe Spaces, also protested the Backpage shutdown on its Twitter feed.

“Sex work is consensual. Sex trafficking is coerced. The crackdown on Backpage is not about ending trafficking; it’s motivated by the patriarchal notion that women should not be free to do what we want with our bodies,” the group wrote.

Pictured, l-r: Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey and James Larkin. Photos via Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.