Last week, Backpage.com was shut down by federal authorities as part of “an enforcement action” against the popular online marketplace and classified advertising site. Today, the founders of the website have been charged for allegedly promoting prostitution and money laundering.
As Time reports, the founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, as well as five other top employees have been indicted on federal charges in Phoenix. As per the 93-count indictment, which was unsealed on Monday, Backpage is accused of occasionally helping customers edit their postings to toe the legal line between a classified ad and straight up asking to pay for sex, the latter of which is obviously illegal. The indictment also cites 17 trafficking victims, some of whom are as young as 14. Backpage allegedly laundered some of the $500 million it’s raked in since launching in 2004, nearly “every dollar” of which “represents the proceeds of illegal activity,” according to the indictment.
One official with the Justice department said in a background briefing, “This is not a website that let the occasional ad slip thru the cracks of their review system.” If the allegations are true, the effects have been wide-reaching, as one Senate report concluded the company ran websites in 17 languages in 97 countries for 943 locations. Lauren Hersh, national director of World Without Exploitation, says that the site’s closure “removes one of the most prolific online platforms of exploitation. It is high time to hold websites accountable for the harm they knowingly cause by facilitation sexual exploitation.”