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Backpage.com CEO Arrested in Houston in Two-State Human Trafficking Sting

The CEO of Backpage.com, a website that publishes advertisements for strippers and escorts, was arrested Thursday on felony charges of pimping, pimping a minor and conspiracy to commit pimping, the attorneys general of Texas and California announced Thursday following a joint three-year investigation.

CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested on a California warrant immediately after touching down at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport following a trip to Amsterdam; meanwhile, nearly three dozen members of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's Law Enforcement Unit raided Ferrer's Backpage.com Dallas headquarters with a search warrant.

According to Paxton, Ferrer's company was facilitating prostitution and child sex trafficking through the online advertisements.

“Making money off the backs of innocent human beings by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is not acceptable in Texas,” Paxton said in a statement. “I intend to use every resource my office has to make sure those who profit from the exploitation and trafficking of persons are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Ferrer appeared in a Harris County court Friday morning and agreed to be extradited to California as early as this afternoon, according to prosecutors. 

While Backpage.com is not exclusively an adult-services website, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris says that 99 percent of Backpage's worldwide income was directly related to those adult services from January 2013 to March 2015. The arrest warrant also accuses Ferrer of promoting Backpage.com in order to create other spin-off sites, such as EvilEmpire.com and BigCity.com.

“Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel,” Harris said in a statement.

According to Harris, an arrest warrant has also been issued for Michael Lacey and James Larkin, who the warrant identifies as controlling shareholders of Backpage. (Full disclosure: Lacey and Larkin formerly owned Village Voice Media, which owned the Houston Press until 2012.) Lacey and Larkin have been charged with conspiracy to commit pimping.

As of Friday morning, it was unclear if Lacey and Larkin had been taken into custody yet. According to the California arrest warrant, both men reside in Arizona.

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