Backpage co-founder charged after human trafficking investigation
Updated on April 10, 2018 at 9:30 AM EST
Backpage co-founder Michael Lacey, 69, was charged on Friday in connection with a federal investigation of Backpage’s use for human trafficking and the sexual sale of underage girls. The indictment lists 93-counts including charges of conspiracy, facilitation of prostitution, concealment money laundering and international promotional money laundering. Six people, beyond Lacey, were also charged in the instrument.
At press time, a visit to the site yields a notice of federal seizure. The Arizona Republic reported that the courthouse was also closed to the public and the exact charges remain unclear. Larry Kazan, Lacey’s attorney, told the publication that his client had been charged but that he did not know how many counts Lacey faced given the sealed nature of the indictment.
Backpage’s legacy includes its profitability (having earned $135 million in 2014, according to a U.S. Senate report), and continuous allegations of facilitating sex services and child abuse. After Craigslist, Backpage was the second most popular online classified site, but it is also involved in nearly three-quarters of the 10,000 child-trafficking reports the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children receives. While the government has been increasingly cracking down on adult services websites because certain sexual transactions are illegal, many sex workers claim these sites keep them safer.
In January 2017, Backpage closed its adult section the same day that Lacey and other Backpage executives faced a Senate subcommittee hearing, during which the men refused to answer questions.
In February 2018, the Delaware Secretary of State Jeff Bullock and Attorney General Matt Denn told the Delaware News Journal that Backpage’s limited liability company satisfied Delaware business entity laws.
On Friday, Bullock described the latest developments positively. “I think it’s great news,” Bullock said. He told The Republic that federal law enforcement had not advised his office on whether the Delaware Department of State could dissolve the LLC. “But it sounds like this is just breaking right now.”
Cindy McCain, an advocate against human trafficking who is also Senator John McCain’s wife, told The Republic she heard that federal law enforcement agents raided Lacey’s home along with every Backpage office worldwide.
“They’ve confiscated everything and shut the website down,” McCain said. She called Friday a “good day” in the battle against human trafficking, and added that she and others worked for years so that Backpage’s leadership would change business practices. The entity, she said, refused.
“I wish that it didn’t have to go this far,” McCain said. “I wish they would have cooperated with us when we tried to get them to see they needed to stop this.”