The chief executive of a website known for the sexually oriented escort advertisements it hosts was arrested on Thursday and charged with conspiracy and pimping a minor after the authorities raided the company’s Dallas headquarters, according to court records.
The website, Backpage.com, has faced accusations in various jurisdictions of engaging in sex trafficking, and hundreds of trafficking cases across the country have been linked to the site. But this is the first time that criminal charges have been brought against the company or its executives, the authorities said.
Charges were filed in California Superior Court against Carl Ferrer, 55, the chief executive, and two men who founded the company in 2004, Michael Lacey, 68, and James Larkin, 67.
According to an affidavit for a warrant filed by the California Department of Justice.
“Defendants have known that their website is the United States hub for the illegal sex trade and that many of the people advertised for commercial sex on Backpage are victims of sex trafficking, including children.”
Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, said Mr. Ferrer had been arrested Thursday on a California warrant after he arrived in Houston on a flight from Amsterdam, The Associated Press reported. The three-year investigation has been a joint effort of the States of Texas and California.
Backpage describes itself as the second-largest online classified advertising service in the country, according to court records.
“They’re like the McDonald’s of trafficking. They made is so easy.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said there had been a more than 800 percent increase over the last five years in reports of suspected child sex trafficking, much of it online.
Documents filed in the case included interviews with children who said they took out ads on Backpage.com after they were forced into prostitution.
A 15-year-old girl identified as E.S., who said she was a forced into prostitution when she was 13, said Backpage “profits off of women and men,” whether they want to earn money through prostitution or are forced into it.
She said via court documents:
“I mean really, coming from someone my age, there is too much access, like it’s too easy for people get on it and post an ad.”