The CEO of Backpage.com, a classifieds website that allows users to post escort ads, was arrested Thursday on felony pimping charges.
Carl Ferrer was arrested in Houston after he arrived on a flight from Amsterdam; dozens of law enforcement officers then searched Backpage’s Dallas headquarters.
Ferrer, 55, is charged with pimping a minor, pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping. Two controlling shareholders of Backpage — Michael Lacey and James Larkin — also are charged with conspiracy to commit pimping.
Lacey and Larkin are former owners of the Village Voice and the Phoenix New Times, The Associated Press reports.
Backpage was started by Village Voice Media and is now owned by a Dutch company. The site 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 after other sites — including, most notably, Craigslist — shut down their adult sections.
The California Department of Justice spent three years investigating Backpage, including with undercover agents posting ads, to confirm that the escorts ads were for the sole purpose of buying and selling sex.
The investigation was prompted, in part, by reports from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of thousands of instances of child sex trafficking through Backpage.
There are 17 victims named in the documents who are both adults and children who say they were forced into sex trafficking.