Carl Ferrer, who is the CEO of the classified ad website Backpage.com, was placed under arrest in Texas this week at the airport in Houston. Ferrer is currently being investigated by Congress for his website’s alleged role in sex trafficking of both children and adults. He also had a warrant out for his arrest in California.
Federal charges against Ferrer include pimping, pimping of a minor, conspiracy and attempting pimping of a minor. None of these charges are for anything that Ferrer did personally; instead, he is being charged because he owns an ad website where such activities may be occurring.
After he arrived in Houston from Amsterdam, approximately three dozen members of the TX Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Unit arrested Ferrer. They also executed a search warrant of Backpage’s headquarters in Dallas.
— Kimberly McOwen Yim (@abolitionistmom) October 14, 2016
The Attorney General’s office in Texas stated that making money off of innocent human beings by letting them being exploited for slavery is not allowed to happen in Texas. The TX attorney general also stated that he would ensure that every resource of his office would be used to punish people who profited from this type of exploitation.
Backpage.com is very similar to Craigslist, which is the largest and best known classifeds website. Just like Craigslist, Backpage.com offers a free space for people to post ads to sell just about anything. There also is an adult entertainment section where people look for others interested in sex, strippers and related sexual topics.
However, just like Craigslist, Facebook and Twitter, Backpage.com is protected by Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act. That law states that sites with user generated content may not be held liable for what members or users post. Critics of the federal government on these types of cases say that without Section 230, Twitter could be shut down because some users post terrorist threats, and Facebook could be shuttered because some users solicit sex from minors.
Two other men who are major shareholders in the company, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, also are charged with conspiracy to commit pimping.
According to a special agent with the California Department of Justice, all of the men have known for at least five years that their website was the hub in the US for the illegal sex trade. They also allegedly knew that many of the ads involved sex trafficking victims, including children.
Backpage.com was founded in 2004 by Larkin and Lacey. In 2012 it broke off from the parent company and become its own company.
A federal investigation started in 2014 when an undercover agent arranged a meeting with prostitutes with ads through the site. The agent also created ads that advertised escort services.
One of the people who was interviewed during the investigation was a 16 year old girl who said that she was forced to be a prostitute when she was 12 years old, and this was facilitated through Backpage.
The CA Department of Justice stated in court documents that its investigation was started because of reports from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that the website was a major hub for prostitution.
The Center stated that 2900 cases of suspected child sex trafficking occurred in CA through backpage since 2012.
About Sex Crimes and Prostitution
Federal sex crimes under federal law include those that occur in any federal jurisdiction. They include sexual crimes against children and others who may not consent under the law.
As the above case illustrates, the sexual abuse of someone under 18 can involve several criminal charges. Sex trafficking of children is one of the most serious federal charges that can result in other charges. Another is manufacturing or distributing child pornography. Colluding with someone to produce or disseminate child pornography can also result in a conspiracy charge.
One aspect of sex crime laws that is different is that federal and state sex crime laws can be different. Under federal law, each state can define what the age of consent is for a person to be able to legally consent to engage in sex. However, regardless of the state law in play, some sex crimes against minors and other protected members of society will fall under federal authority.
For people who are convicted of federal sex crimes, there usually is a long prison sentence involved and life time registration as a sex offender.
Specific sex crimes may be punished by different types of punishment. Sexual conduct with someone over 18 by threat or force can result in a 3-10 year prison sentence. Sexual abuse of a minor may result in a life sentence in prison.
People who have been charged with federal sex crimes involving children face extremely grave charges and need an experienced defense attorney.