back to article Backpage.com cops to human trafficking, money laundering

Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer has pled guilty to money laundering and the company he led has done likewise on charges of human trafficking. US authorities seized and shuttered the site last week, and a few days later the Department of Justice charged seven staff and investors with 93 counts including conspiracy, money …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And all this before FOSTA/SESTA was even law.

    Just shows we didn't need that horrible piece of badly written dross.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      @AC Charged under state law not feral (FOSTA/SESTA is feral).

      1. Dal90

        Article wasn't clear as other news stories.

        He plea bargained state charges in Texas, Arizona, and California AND to federal charges.

        5 year sentence from all four, to be served concurrently.

        State prostitution and federal money laundering charges.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Facepalm

          SESTA was written to nip future Backpages in the bud, AC.

          Without it, Backpage was able to operate openly for 7+ years, raking in $500 million.

          Look on the bright side: law enforcement just broke up the biggest evilest prostitution monopoly ever. Now if only they could break up some other internet-enabled monopolies...

  2. JakeMS
    FAIL

    You'd have thought..

    You'd have thought he'd have taken the initial money and legged it to another country where he was protected from the US? He could still operate the site from there.

    Why would you stay in the one country where you know full well that if you get busted, you're going down?

    Unless he was transporting the products himself there is no reason for him to remain in America.

    I mean seriously?

    I'm not condoning his activities, but it strikes me as odd that'd he would stay in America long enough to be caught and end up having to plead guilty in court.

    1. Anonymice

      Re: You'd have thought..

      On paper, Backpage was owned by a German shell company, which in turn was owned by 4-5 layers of US shell companies. It was apparently a poorly executed attempt at masking the true ownership, which was the obvious aim, as it provided no tax or other financial benefits. He still ran the day-to-day operations of the company from within its HQ of ~120 staff

    2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: You'd have thought..

      If I understand correctly their primary activities are illegal in most countries and where they are legal may not be the best business environment. Moving money around only complicates things and risks tax fraud charges. Given the charges are state level the really nasty feral charges are yet to kick in. It appears they thought Section 230 gave them an absolute impunity to aid and abet prostitution and child trafficking when that was likely never the intent. But the problem is the post may be protected but the underlying acts are illegal (aiding and abetting child trafficking is illegal in the US). Section 230 is intend to primarily to prevent sites from being liable for third party content. (El Reg can not be sued because I posted a libelous comment - I can be still be sued.).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You'd have thought..

        At first I thought it was a typo.

        it's FEDERAL, not feral. Jesus Fucking Christ.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You'd have thought..

          I'm glad I'm not alone in that sentiment.

          I think there's dain bramage, and some self-indoctrinated autocorrupt going on, in the name of "being edgy and rebelious".

          Have an Upvote, and a call to get Mr. Yank a copy of Wibsters Dikshunery.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You'd have thought..

          I dunno, parts of the fedgov appear to have gone feral... and frothing at the mouth... and probably need to be given the "ol yeller" treatment....

          anon for obvious reasons.

  3. tip pc Bronze badge
    Big Brother

    Guilty then

    And all that defended or used the site are guilty by association too.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It takes a couple of years to get from the backpage to the front-pages. But if you engage in their type of activities you do make it.

    1. Smooth Newt
      Meh

      Backpage to front page

      It takes a couple of years to get from the backpage to the front-pages. But if you engage in their type of activities you do make it.

      Well it depends. If you publish people's adverts promoting evil things on the Internet, then you are a criminal who will go to jail. If you are a social network and let those same people put those adverts up on your site themselves instead, then it's not really anything to do with you. You might have some vague exhortation from a few politicians to "do your best" to take them down, but you are not going to jail.

  5. katrinab Silver badge

    Is there a Haggard's Law for SWERFs?

    In my experience the people who are the most vocally anti-sexworker are the ones who hire the most sex workers themselves.

    [SWERF = Sex Worker Exclusive Radical Feminist]

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Is there a Haggard's Law for SWERFs?

      Haggard's law... https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Haggard%27s_Law

      Seriously I'd never heard of that before! But that might be a corollary of something I've definitely observed (and I think there's even something like that in the bible, something about a log in your eye), and from church people no less. Another example of moralist activists once again not reading the thing that defines their morality. Who knew?

      But what's funny about THIS case is how a bunch of 'sex worker' feminists are all SELF-RIGHTEOUS about this, claiming that shutting down the web site was some kind of DISCRIMINATION against women or something.

      OK lemme get a straight answer to this [as someone who's apparently X-chromosome-impaired by having only one]: Is prostitution the EXPLOITATION of women, or THEIR RIGHTS as women?

      Or, are men just FSCK'd no matter what!!!

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Is there a Haggard's Law for SWERFs?

        "Is prostitution the exploitation of women, or [exercising] their rights as women?" (corrected)

        It depends. See https://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/ for an informed and articulate discussion of the issue from a nonstandard viewpoint.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great...

    Except that law enforcement will actually have to do some real work to find these creeps now.

    Perhaps it was just too easy having all their fish in one barrel, and they just wanted to make things interesting again?

    Just another case of the current administration pretending to get something done, so they can brag about it during the next election. In the end, this was mostly just a show that they're putting on for all the conservatives, and rubes who think that it's going to make a dent--because it's not.

    Creeps have always existed, and they always seem to find new ways to meet other like minded creeps--so this maybe only stops the part-time perverts that were only mildly interested, but for the truly dedicated creeps, it just makes things slightly inconvenient for however long it takes them to find a new service.

  7. Hardrada

    It's worth noting that while the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children receives money from the US federal government, it is not a US government agency. It's a private activist group.

    If you want to understand the political history of this issue in the US, read about the Mann Act (AKA the White-Slave Traffic Act), which was passed in response to unsubstantiated racist hysteria about black men kidnapping white women and sexually enslaving them. (This was especially galling, since at the time black men in the US were a lot more likely to be the victims of de facto slavery or forced servitude.)

    The FBI does regular nationwide 'trafficking sweeps' that almost never turn up underage victims and rarely uncover evidence of forced sex.

    This is despite laws in the US that give prostitutes an imposing incentive to claim that they were trafficked: If they do, they're teated as victims and given free services; if they say 'No I wasn't forced, I just needed the money to pay off my exploitive college loan' or 'It was easier than working in a factory,' then they're charged, fined and jailed.

    So pause on that for a moment: Several hundred million dollars a year, tens of thousands of man hours and a stark carrot-and-stick ultimatum to each possible victim can't turn up more than a dozen possible cases of trafficking - many dubious - in a nation of 300 million people.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      SJW much? Oh yes, every single comment you've posted here.

      Do you think a sex trafficking victim would rat out her pimp if that means being returned to his tender mercies? Jail time would be a vacation.

      But I think you're making all this up. I've heard about plenty of underage and forced prostitution - in the news, from people in courts and law enforcement, and through the grapevine. Not to mention #MeToo. Sure, there's an element of "much ado about nothing", but there are some truly evil people out there.

      Citation needed, buckaroo.

  8. Hardrada

    I'll answer this for the benefit of other people.

    A good place to start would be the actual charging documents or plea agreements, or news articles that summarize them. Here's an example:

    https://reason.com/blog/2016/10/10/johns-suppression-initiative-casualties

    "Most efforts wind up as they did in Lincoln, Nebraksa—where initial headlines about the August bust announced "12 arrested in Nebraska for sex trafficking related crimes" and "Lincoln teacher among those arrested in sex-trafficking operation." But the ultimate arrest/rescue breakdown for Lincoln?

    no underage or adult sex-trafficking victims discovered

    no force, fraud, or coercion discovered

    four women, ages 23 to 36, charged with misdemeanor prostitution

    five men charged with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution

    one man charged with felony solicitation of prostitution

    one man charged with marijuana possession

    charges dropped against Corey Walcott, who was arrested for solicitation of prostitution

    charges dropped for Maurice Briggs, who was arrested for pandering"

    You can get a sense of the sleaziness of the people doing these stings here:

    https://reason.com/archives/2017/05/25/cops-fight-for-the-right-to-sexually-exp

    "In the same interview, however, Case claimed that police "are not out there to go out and find that street prostitute….What we're interested in now is the trafficking." In other words, Anchorage police are arguing that they must be allowed to molest trafficking victims in order to do their jobs."

    The plea agreement in the Backpage case is pretty eyebrow-raising, since the prosecutor is recommending no jail time and the fine is only $20,000 - in other words, the 'perpetrator' is being allowed to keep almost all of his profits and walk free - something that a prosecutor would never agree to if the case were strong. (US law certainly allows for much harsher punishments, and the feds had plenty of time and access to build a case.)

    This is more likely a face-saving way for both sides ot wind down Backpage, which was already dead as a business. (International operations were shifted to cracker.com a long time ago,.)

  9. Hardrada

    I omitted a paragraph from the last quote above:

    https://reason.com/archives/2017/05/25/cops-fight-for-the-right-to-sexually-exp

    "Deputy Chief Sean Case told the Alaska Dispatch News that the freedom to engage in sexual behavior with people under investigation is vital to doing police work. That's because sex workers can engage in 'cop-checking,' he says—vetting possible clients by asking them break laws that restrict law enforcement. A suspect might ask him to touch her breast, he explained. 'If we make that act (of touching) a misdemeanor we have absolutely no way of getting involved in that type of arrest.'

    "In the same interview, however, Case claimed that police 'are not out there to go out and find that street prostitute….What we're interested in now is the trafficking.' In other words, Anchorage police are arguing that they must be allowed to molest trafficking victims in order to do their jobs."

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