Arizona Senator John McCain and his wife Cindy are both praising the arrest of Backstage.com CEO Carl Ferrer.
Ferrer was arrested Thursday and his Dallas headquarters was raided after officials in California accused him of felony pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping.
Under California's law, felony pimping is defined as making money off prostitutes or soliciting customers for prostitution. Texas' state attorney general's office added money-laundering to the list of alleged crimes.
Backpage.com is a classifieds website that allows users to post escort ads.
Sen. McCain (R-AZ) released the following statement regarding Ferrer’s arrest:
"I am gratified by the news that authorities are moving to hold accountable individuals at Backpage.com for their history of putting profits before protecting victims of human trafficking. We know that Backpage.com is a market leader in commercial sex advertising and that the website has been linked to hundreds of human trafficking cases.
For the past two years, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, under the leadership of Chairman Rob Portman, has sought information pertaining to the role of Backpage.com in the online buying and selling of children for sexual exploitation. These criminal charges are a testament to Senator Portman's leadership on this issue, and I look forward to working with him to complete that investigation and advance congressional efforts to end human trafficking. I also commend the dedication of my wife, Cindy, and her tireless efforts to combat human trafficking and aid victims of this unthinkable crime."
Meantime, Cindy McCain calls the arrest of Backpage.com's chief executive a "huge game-changer" in efforts to crack down on the sex trafficking of young girls and boys.
The senator's wife co-chairs the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and works nationally and internationally on efforts to stop sex trafficking. She says Backpage.com had the chance to "do the right thing early on" but chose not to.
Authorities also issued arrest warrants for Backpage's controlling shareholders: Michael Lacey, 68, and James Larkin, 67. It wasn't immediately clear Friday whether the men, who live in Arizona, had been taken into custody.
Lacey and Larkin are former owners of the Village Voice and the Phoenix New Times, The Associated Press reports.
Backpage allows users to post a variety of classified ads, but has come under scrutiny for its "adult entertainment" section, which includes escort ads. Backpage has continued to host those ads even after other sites, including Craigslist,shut down their adult sections.
Texas authorities say Backpage.com receives more than 90 percent of its revenue from the adult escort ad portion of its classified advertising business
California authorities said many of the ads involve victims of sex trafficking including children under the age of 18.
One of the advertisers, identified only as 15-year-old "E.S.," ''was forced into prostitution at the age of 13 by her pimp," according to an affidavit filed with the complaint. She used other online advertising services until they were shut down, the court filing says, when she turned to Backpage.com.
California officials said their investigation was prompted in part by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which reported 2,900 instances to California authorities since 2012 when suspected child sex trafficking occurred using Backpage.com.
The charges against Ferrer could bring him nearly 22 years in prison, while Larkin and Lacey face a maximum six years.
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