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Backpage.com, CEO plead guilty in California, Texas

The classifieds site has been likened to an online brothel.

Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer, left, former owner James Larkin, former owner Michael Lacey and COO Andrew Padilla, in Sacramento Superior Court in October 2016.

Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer, left, former owner James Larkin, former owner Michael Lacey and COO Andrew Padilla, in Sacramento Superior Court in October 2016.

Hector Amezcua/Getty Images

The CEO of Backpage.com, a classifieds site likened to an online brothel, pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in California on Thursday, while the company itself pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Texas.

Carl Ferrer pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering in California, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Thursday. Ferrer will serve no more than five years in prison in exchange for cooperating in the prosecution of two controlling shareholders of the site, Michael Lacey and James Larkin.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the company pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Texas.

"Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it is happening in our own backyard," Becerra said in a statement announcing the plea deal. "The shutdown of Backpage.com is a tremendous victory for the survivors and their families. And the conviction of CEO Ferrer is a game-changer in combating human trafficking in California, indeed worldwide."

The guilty pleas come just days after the US Department of Justice officially confirmed it had seized the website, calling it "the Internet's leading forum for prostitution ads." Seven people have been charged with 93 counts of various crimes, including "conspiracy to facilitate prostitution" and money laundering.

In January 2017, a US Senate subcommittee report accused Backpage of "knowingly facilitating online sex trafficking." According to the document, Backpage helped sex traffickers hide their posts from law enforcement by automatically removing words and phrases like "lolita," "teenage," "little girl" and "rape," then published those classified ads anyway.  

The US Senate and House of Representatives both recently passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) in order to target sites like Backpage. President Donald Trump signed the act into law on Wednesday.

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