Reportedly ‘Seized’ By Federal Government

CYBERSPACE—The controversial classified advertising site was taken offline and “seized” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday, according to media reports. The FBI also raided the Sedona, Arizona, home of the site’s founder, Michael Lacey, Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting’s Evan Wyloge reported

When an reporter attempted to verify the seizure by accessing the site on Friday, the banner depicted above was briefly displayed. The banner says that the United States Justice Department will provide more information about the apparent seizure at 6 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Friday, April 6.

But even when the banner disappeared from the site’s main page, links off that page appeared to lead nowhere, producing only messages saying that the site’s pages were not reachable.

The site was popular with sex workers advertising their various services, and on Friday, some of them took to Twitter to complain that their ads had disappeared without any notice—or any refunds of money being issued.

According to Wyloge, the FBI’s Phoenix office confirmed the raid on Lacey’s home. Lacey was the founder of the New Times chain of alternative weekly newspapers, and with business partner Jim Larkin later bought Village Voice Media, making Lacey the co-owner of weekly newspapers in New York City, Los Angeles and many other major cities.

But in 2012, Lacey and Larkin split from Village Voice Media, retaining ownership of Backpage. The site came under fire and is currently the target of lawsuits alleging that its classified ad services promote “sex trafficking.” The allegation was a major impetus for Congress to pass the recent FOSTA bill, which weakens legal protections for internet sites, in the supposed interest of curtailing online sex trafficking.

In 2016, Lacey and Larkin were jailed in California on charges of profiting from prostitution due to the Backpage classified ads.

According to Wyloge, the raid on Lacey’s home consisted of “about 20 undercover cops climbing over his property in Oak Creek this morning.”

Journalist Melissa Gira Grant reported that while the domain name had been seized, the server housing the site’s data had not, as of Friday.