Backpage.com, CEO plead guilty in California, Texas and Arizona

A co-founder of Backpage.com pleaded guilty in federal court in Arizona on Thursday to charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering, the U.S. Justice Department said.

The "sex worker's rights are women's rights" slogan, was challenged by critics, however, who felt that rallying for legal prostitution essentially argues that sex work is an inherent part of being a female.

Ferrer says in his federal plea deal that he was aware that a great majority of the site's ads were for sex services. But a letter provided to the committee before the hearing said the site and its employees "agree that human trafficking is abhorrent and should be eradicated" and that it "has spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars" working with law enforcement to fight trafficking.

The guilty pleas by the company and CEO Carl Ferrer were made on April 5, but were unsealed late Thursday afternoon.

Ferrer then traveled to Sacramento where he pleaded guilty to money laundering once more and was released on bond.

Ferrer has also agreed in his California plea to take down every Backpage-affiliated website that he can within five days and forfeit all Backpage-related domains within 14 days.

Ferrer pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering.

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Ferrer's guilty pleas were filed in state courts in California and Texas, as well as in federal court in Arizona.

The seven defendants charged in the indictment are Michael Lacey, 69, of Paradise Valley, Ariz.; James Larkin, 68, of Paradise Valley, Ariz.; Scott Spear, 67, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; John E. "Jed" Brunst, 66, of Phoenix; Daniel Hyer, 49, of Dallas; Andrew Padilla, 45, of Plano, Texas; and Jaala Joye Vaught, 37, of Addison, Texas.

"It is appropriate that Backpage is now facing criminal charges in Arizona, where the company was founded, and I applaud the tremendous efforts of the agents who contributed to last Friday's enforcement action and who assisted in obtaining the indictment in this case". Backpage.com removed the adult section from all of its websites last January after the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee of Investigations released a report that accused the website of knowingly facilitating child sex trafficking.

In October 2016, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton arrested Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer on a warrant issued by the State of California. The state attorney general's office, which is prosecuting the case, alleges that Backpage's operators illegally funneled almost $45 million through multiple companies and created websites to get around banks that refused to process their transactions.

Ferrer, along with Lacey and Larkin, had faced criminal charges for conspiracy to pimp and other related counts in California.

President Donald Trump this week signed a law making it easier to prosecute website operators in the future.

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