Backpage CEO arrested, accused of “pimping”

The website Backpage has never really had a “good” reputation. Often accused of allowing ads that either support or promote child sex trafficking, the site has long been a hard target for anti-prostitution groups and child protection advocates. But, until last week, no one associated with the site had been publicly arrested for charges related to the allegations that dogged the site.

Now CEO Carl Ferrer is in a Houston-area jail. He was captured and arrested after flying into the country from Amsterdam. The warrant under which Ferrer was arrested came out of California, where Ferrer is accused of selling children for sex.

In an interstate collaboration, Texas and California worked together to build a case against Ferrer that accuses Backpage of using escort ads as bait to force both adults and children into prostitution. In a prepared statement, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said: “Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal… Backpage and its executives purposely and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel…”

According to reports in CNN, Ferrer knew the site was used as a “hub for the illegal sex trade” … has known, in fact, for years.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined his colleague from California in condemning both Backpage and Ferrer: “Making money off the backs of innocent human beings by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is not acceptable in Texas…”

In addition to facilitating prostitution, Texas is also charging Ferrer with money laundering.

At this point, the site has not responded to headlines or stories in the press. It’s likely their statements will be terse and defensive, and most of the direct comments will be made in court.

That hasn’t stopped the case from touching off a firestorm of commentary relative to the regulation of the internet which is, in many ways, often operated as the Wild West. In most cases, individual industries thrive until stopped or blocked by various governments. Because vices, like prostitution and gambling, are subject to different laws in various countries, the rules governing such activity can be murky at best. But, once a nation can get their hands on a bad actor, they can make the charges last … and the negative PR pile up. Just ask Ashley Madison.

David Firester specializes in intelligence analysis and terrorism studies and is the founder of TRAC Intelligence.

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