State Attorney General Ken Paxton said CEO Carl Ferrer faces up to five years in prison once he has fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement. "I want to thank the Attorney General of California, the U.S. Department of Justice, federal law enforcement officials, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, and the prosecutors and law enforcement in my office for their outstanding collaborative work on this investigation and prosecution".
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SESTA aims to halt sex trafficking, particularly of children, by restricting what kind of information can be posted on websites like Backpage, where people often advertise sexual services.
The Texas Attorney General's Office assisted the Department of Justice with permanently shutting down the website a little under a week ago. The indictment included details about 17 victims of sex trafficking, some as young as 14 years old.
The guilty pleas by the company and CEO Carl Ferrer were made on April 5, but were unsealed late Thursday afternoon.
The terms of the agreement also require Ferrer to assist United States authorities to shut the operation down, as well as forfeit to the government corporate assets and other property owned or controlled by Backpage-linked entities.
The various plea agreements call for Mr. Ferrer to shut down Backpage.com worldwide, offer the site'so data into police officers, and also collaborate in the prosecution of its creators, Michael Lacey and James Larkin.More news: Chad Removed from US Travel Ban List
According to court paperwork, the company provided guidance to employees on how to moderate ads to make prostitution ads look more like escort services, adult companionship or other lawful activities.
The company founders were among company officials indicted by a federal grand jury in Arizona, while Ferrer, 57, was noticeably absent from the indictment.
According to his plea agreement, Ferrer admitted that he had always been aware that the great majority of Backpage's "escort" and "adult" advertisements are, in fact, advertisements for prostitution services, which are not protected by the First Amendment and which are illegal in 49 states and in much of Nevada.
The "sex worker's rights are women's rights" slogan, was challenged by critics, however, who felt that rallying for legal prostitution essentially argues that sex work is an inherent part of being a female.
Ferrer, along with Lacey and Larkin, had faced criminal charges for conspiracy to pimp and other related counts in California. He also admitted to conspiring with others at the company to launder the proceeds from such ads after credit card companies and banks refused to do business with the site. Larkin is being held until a detention hearing on April 12, while the other two defendants were released pending trial.
Ferrer's guilty pleas were filed in state courts in California and Texas, as well as in federal court in Arizona.