11:19, April 09 155 0 abajournal.com

2018-04-09 11:19:05
Feds shut down Backpage, site co-founder among 7 reportedly charged

A notice posted to the website on Friday says Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized as part of a law enforcement action, report the New York Times, Wired, the Washington Post, Politico and the Arizona Republic.

Larry Kazan, a lawyer for website co-founder Michael Lacey, told the Republic that Lacey has been charged. The indictment is sealed; CBS News had reported it charges seven people with 93 criminal counts, including money laundering and running a website to facilitate prostitution. The online CBS report was later removed, according to Politico.

The Republic reported there was “FBI activity” at the Arizona homes of Lacey and Jim Larkin, another website co-founder. The newspaper sent an email to a lawyer for Backpage at a backpage.com domain, but it was returned as undeliverable.

In March 2017, Lacey and Larkin filed paperwork to remove their name from deeds to their homes, according to the Arizona Republic. A civil suit said a federal grand jury had been hearing evidence about Backpage since February 2017.

Backpage had shut down its adult ads section in January 2017 after a Senate subcommittee report accused the site of editing ads to remove evidence of child sex trafficking. Some courts have ruled that editing content removes the protections of the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites that post user content.

Some of the ads that appeared at Backpage’s adult section began appearing at the singles section of the website, however.

A bill awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature, known by the acronyms FOSTA and SESTA, creates a new federal offense that prohibits the use of websites with the intent to promote or facilitate prostitution. The bill also amends another section of federal anti-trafficking law to ban “knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitating” sex trafficking. State prosecutions and civil sex-trafficking claims would also be authorized.

The federal government, however, had already used a statute making it a crime to use a facility in interstate commerce to knowingly enable prostitution, according to the Times. The law had been used against websites such as Escorts.com and Rentboy.com.