DALLAS - The CEO of a Dallas-based website linked to prostitution and sex trafficking has been arrested, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Thursday.
The CEO of a website called Backpage.com was arrested at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport around 2 p.m. Thursday. He was returning from Amsterdam, where the company also has offices.
Paxton said authorities in California had been investigating Carl Ferrer for three years and brought information to officials in Texas several months ago.
"A lengthy joint investigation by the offices of the Texas and California attorneys general uncovered evidence that adult and child sex trafficking victims were forced into prostitution through escort ads that appeared repeatedly on Backpage," read a release from Paxton's office sent later Thursday.
Ferrer, 55, will face charges of pimping and related crimes from California, but Texas will have its own investigation.
Ferrer was arrested on pimping charges from California. Late Thursday afternoon, Texas investigators were executing a search warrant at Backpage's offices at the corner of Oak Lawn and Maple Avenues in Dallas.
Paxton didn’t detail any future charges, but said the Texas investigation is not over.
“Backpage is the single largest advertiser of adult escort services" in the United States, Paxton said. The company “advertises sex acts for money,” and earns millions of dollars in advertising profits annually, he added.
An indictment filed in late September and obtained Thursday by News 8 cites 17 incidents between 2012 and 2015 in which sex trafficking advertisements were purportedly posted on Backpage.
The site made $2 million per month in advertisements from October 2014 to May 2015, the indictment states.
The Texas attorney general said Backpage exploited both adults and children for financial gain.
"We don't know all the details yet but we do believe there are children involved in this and the children are involved against their will," he said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported 2,900 cases of suspected child sex trafficking on Backpage.
U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), both part of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, released the following statement on Ferrer's arrest:
“For the past 18 months, we have led a bipartisan investigation into the scourge of online sex trafficking. That investigation led us directly to Backpage, an online marketplace that has been involved in hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including child exploitation. We certainly wish that Backpage had willingly cooperated with our investigation. Despite its refusal to do so, our investigation was the first to uncover Backpage’s practice of editing ads in manner that serves to conceal evidence of criminality. As law enforcement officials in Texas and California do their job, we will continue to press forward and complete our longstanding investigation.”
Ferrer’s first court appearance is 9 a.m. in Houston, where extradition to California will be a topic.
The raid of Backpage.com’s Dallas office and the arrest of its CEO is an election year stunt, not a good-faith action by law enforcement. The complaint and search warrant make clear that (1) prostitution ads violate Backpage.com’s policies against the posting of illegal content, (2) the company blocked the posting of ads using terms that violated those policies, and (3) Backpage.com removed ads when contacted by law enforcement. The actions of the California and Texas Attorneys General are flatly illegal. They ignore the holdings of numerous federal courts that the First Amendment protects the ads on Backpage.com. The actions of the Attorneys General also violate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act preempting state actions such as this one and immunizing web hosts of third-party created content. Backpage.com will take all steps necessary to end this frivolous prosecution and will pursue its full remedies under federal law against the state actors who chose to ignore the law, as it has done successfully in other cases.
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