The CEO of the classified advertising site Backpage.com, Carl Ferrer, was arrested in Houston on Thursday following a joint investigation by Texas and California officials into the site's controversial listings for adult services, including escorts.
The site, similar to Craigslist, is known for its "adult" section, which features escort and stripper advertisements. It generates millions of dollars annually from the classified sex ads, according to the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Ferrer was arrested on California felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping, according to a press release from the California Attorney General's office. Michael Lacey and James Larkin, who launched Backpage in 2004 according to the arrest warrant affadavit, were also charged with conspiracy to commit pimping, a felony.
The warrant, issued by California officials, alleges that Ferrer, Lacey and Larkin received earnings from prostitution through the Backpage site. It also alleged Ferrer devised a way to promote Backpage by creating other prostitution-related sites.
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Paxton announced the arrest of Ferrer, 55, saying Texas and California attorneys general uncovered evidence that adult and child sex trafficking victims were forced into prostitution through the escort ads on the site. The Netherlands company has offices in Dallas.
“Making money off the backs of innocent human beings by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is not acceptable in Texas,” Paxton said in a statement Thursday. “I intend to use every resource my office has to make sure those who profit from the exploitation and trafficking of persons are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Backpage's internal revenue reports show that between January 2013 and March 2015, 99 percent of Backpage's income was attributed to the "adult" section, according to the California press release.
The arrest follows a January launch by Paxton’s office of a new unit dedicated to combating human trafficking.