The Feds Just Broke Up One Of The Shadiest Websites On The Internet For Prostitution

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Serious issues are continuing to face the Trump administration, whether they’re ready for them or not. While the president continues to struggle on certain fronts, his Department of Justice has now been revealed to have successfully brought charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering against seven executives of Backpage.com, a website that until recently functioned as a place for individuals to post ads.

The government shut down the website last week. In the face of scrutiny from Congressional investigators, the website shut down its “Adult” ads section last year, but according to prosecutors, that didn’t stop posts advertising prostitution, that in some cases involved children, from appearing on the site anyway.

In at least one case, a young girl advertised on the website by her pimp was murdered. In 2016, the father of the 16-year-old who was murdered asked the site to take down ads featuring his daughter, but the site did not “immediately comply,” according to prosecutors.

That misstep on the part of the company was indicative of the company’s broad policy of facilitating sex trafficking through its site.

Named in a 93 count indictment unsealed on Monday are website founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin alongside other website executives Scott Spear, John “Jed” Brunst, Dan Hyer, Andrew Padilla, and Joye Vaught.

According to federal prosecutors, although the website’s managers made a show of being against prostitution, they in fact were happy to have the ads on their site since it made them a profit.

One internal document described the company’s strategy as:

‘Do not acknowledge the prostitution.’

To be clear, though, that lack of acknowledgment was only when facing the public. On the inside, managers were open about how at ease they were with the ads that were on their site.

Lacey, for instance, is documented to have commented:

‘Backpage is part of the solution. Eliminating adult advertising will in no way eliminate or even reduce the incidence of prostitution in this country… For the very first time, the oldest profession in the world has transparency, record keeping and safeguards.’

Even that quote, though, obscures the true approach that the individuals behind Backpage took to what they were doing.

Obviously well aware of the consequential nature of hosting ads for prostitution featuring victims of sex trafficking on their site, they made an effort to hide the source of money that they were paid off sales made via the ads. The money went through a complicated loop before getting to its destination accounts — and in that light, the charges against Backpage executives include money laundering as well, as mentioned. Overall, the company is reported to have raked in some $500 million in sex trafficking profits since its inception.

Lacey, for now, remains in custody ahead of a detention hearing set for April 11, while Vaught has been released from custody ahead of a trial and the others charged have not been reported to have made court appearances as of late Monday.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions summed up the situation by saying:

‘For far too long, Backpage.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike. But this illegality stops right now.’

Featured Image via Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images