Mixed Verdict in Trial of Backpage Founder Michael Lacey

PHOENIX—A jury in the trial of Michael Lacey, co-founder of Backpage.com, convicted him of international money laundering on November 16.

On 84 other counts against Lacey, the jury was deadlocked, forcing a mistrial. In total, there were 100 charges levied against Lacey, but he's only been convicted of one.

This is the second mistrial in the effort by federal prosecutors to convict Lacey and his co-founder, the late James Larkin, on a wide range of crimes, including charges related to prostitution and violations of the Travel Act.

U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa of the District of Arizona declared a mistrial after the jurors deliberated for days.

According to the Associated Press, Lacey’s first mistrial was in 2021, when a federal judge found that prosecutors made prejudicial references to child sex trafficking when no one at the time—Lacey, Larkin, and other Backpage execs—faced such charges.

Prosecutors spent two years developing a case against Lacey and Larkin that involved at least 85 charges for those two alone.

Larkin's charges were dismissed after he committed suicide on July 31, AVN reported.

Lacey’s jury conviction in the immediate case could carry a maximum of two decades in prison.

Counsel representing Lacey, criminal defense lawyer Paul Cambria, told AVN the money laundering charge could be vacated.

“The one count out of 100 he was convicted on requires concealment,” Cambria said, “but there was no concealment.”

“He reported the trust in question to the [Internal Revenue Service] and Department of Treasury according to the rules; therefore, no crime of concealment,” Cambria declared.

Observers of the trial saw the conviction and mixed verdict as bittersweet with regard to First Amendment concerns.

“The fight continues, and there is more work still to be done,” said journalist Stephen Lemmons on X (formerly Twitter).

Lemmons previously worked for newspapers owned by both Lacey and Larkin and has covered the years-long persecution of the founders and former senior executives of Backpage.com at the Frontpage Confidential website.

“This injustice will not stand, and there are many issues unresolved, like the government’s unseemly Brady violations,” Lemmons added, referring to the act of prosecutors suppressing favorable or helpful evidence to the defense.

Corey Silverstein, a criminal defense and First Amendment attorney based in Michigan, told AVN that the federal government failed to deliver a compelling case and relied on a faulty view of the First Amendment online.

“I still find this entire prosecution against Backpage a conservative witch hunt and a blow to free speech,” Silverstein told AVN.

“The evidence presented by the defense demonstrated that the defendants weren't acting criminally but quite oppositely were working hand in hand with law enforcement to help...legitimate victims of human trafficking."

"This entire ordeal is a shame; hopefully, the court of appeals will see these charges for what they really are," he added.

Other former executives for Backpage were either acquitted or convicted.

Sentencing is not expected for a few months. Lacey and other convicted defendants are under supervised release pending sentencing and additional hearings that resulted in late-in-the-game potential Brady violations put on by federal prosecutors.

There is no indication yet that charges against Lacey will be refiled and if yet another federal trial will play out. Lacey is 75 years old.