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Backpage.com Seized By Feds, Co-Founder Michael Lacey Charged In Human Trafficking Probe

The book has been closed on Backpage.

By JB Nicholas

The book has been closed on Backpage.

Federal authorities on Friday seized Backpage.com, the classified advertising website long suspected of selling sex, and charged at least one of its co-founders in connection with a human-trafficking investigation.

Backpage is now dark, replaced by a notice about a federal operation including the FBI, U.S. Postal Service and IRS. "backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized," the note says.

Co-founder Michael Lacey, of Sedona, Arizona, was charged after the FBI searched his home Friday, according to 12News in Phoenix. A 93-count indictment against him remained sealed as of Monday afternoon. 

Lacey is a former newspaper publisher who once co-owned New York’s Village Voice and other alternative weeklies, before launching Backpage.com in 2004 as an alternative to Craigslist.com.

Backpage has been repeatedly accused of virtual “pimping,” with ads for sex that are allegedly tied to prostitution or human trafficking. A Senate investigation found last year that Backpage was involved in 73% of all child trafficking reports that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children receives from the public.

Lacey and two other Backpage executives were arrested in 2016 and charged by California with “receiving earnings from prostitution, ” according to Lacey’s arrest warrant, which added that he knew his website was being used as a “hub for the illegal sex trade and that many of the people who advertised for commercial sex on BACKPAGE are victims of sex trafficking, including children.” 

judge ultimately dismissed the charges, ruling that federal law protected the operation.

The Washington Post reported last year that Backpage was not only in control of the sex ads on its pages, but had also hired a Filipino company to solicit sex-work advertisers away from Backpage’s competition.

Two days later, Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Tom Carper of Delaware sent the U.S. Department of Justice a formal “criminal referral,” saying there was enough evidence for an investigation. 

McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor, said in a statement Friday that Backpage's seizure was “great news for survivors, advocates, and law enforcement in Missouri and across the country, but it’s also long-overdue.”

But some sex workers themselves have disagreed, and said websites like Backpage helped keep them safe.

A sex worker called Bee told Oxygen in March that without Backpage and other digital resources she would “without a doubt” have been “robbed, raped, and possibly worse on more than one occasion.”

“While this work is never 100% safe I did feel safer knowing I could screen my clients before seeing them," she said. 

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