Connecticut AG subpoenas Craigslist over sex ads

State's top law enforcement official says the Internet bulletin board isn't doing enough to curb prostitution ads on the site.

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Connecticut's attorney general subpoenaed Craigslist on Monday as part of an investigation into whether the Internet bulletin board is doing enough to curb prostitution ads on the site and whether it is profiting from them.

Richard Blumenthal, who is leading a coalition of 39 states involved in the probe, said in a statement Monday that prostitution ads remain on the site despite assurances they would be removed. Blumenthal cited a recently published revenue projection that estimated the controversial ads could bring in $36 million for Craigslist this year.

"The Craigslist brothel business seems booming--belying its promise to fight prostitution," Blumenthal said in a statement. "The best evidence is thousands of ads that remain on Craigslist--skimpily and slickly disguised with code words. We are asking Craigslist for specific answers about steps to screen and stop sex-for-money offers--and whether the company is actually profiting from prostitution ads that it promised the states and public that it would try to block."

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster responded in a blog post that Blumenthal was "once again indulging in self-serving publicity at the expense of the truth and his constituents."

"As AG Blumenthal knows full well, Craigslist has gone beyond fulfilling its legal obligations, far beyond classifieds industry norms, has more than lived up to any promises it made, and working together with its partners is in fact a leader in the fight against human trafficking and exploitation," Buckmaster wrote, suggesting Blumenthal's subpoena was motivated by political ambitions.

Craigslist had come under scrutiny after law enforcement agencies complained that the site's erotic category was a digital meat market where prostitutes and pimps could safely conduct business. The site's erotic services section was thrust into the national spotlight following the arrest last year of Philip H. Markoff, who is suspected of killing a 25-year-old masseuse he met through Craigslist at a Boston hotel.

However, even before the so-called "Craigslist killing," the site had worked with a group of 40 attorneys general to create new measures on the site designed to thwart ads for prostitution and other illegal sexual activities. Craigslist requires anyone posting ads to the erotic services section to submit an operational phone number and credit card, the site announced last year.

But those measures don't didn't go far enough to stem prostitution, according to a federal lawsuit filed in March 2009 against Craigslist by the sheriff of Illinois' Cook County. Sheriff Tom Dart asked the court to force Craigslist to remove the erotic services section.

Buckmaster suggested at the time that the suit was a waste of time, saying that "Craigslist cannot be held liable, as a matter of clear federal law, for content submitted to the site by our users." A U.S. District judge ultimately agreed, dismissing the suit in October 2009.

Craigslist announced in March 2009 that ads for such services were down 90 percent to 95 percent during the previous 12 months. However, many CNET readers suggested that the reduction was due to the ads being relabeled and moved to another section.

Buckmaster announced in May 2009 that Craigslist planned to implement a monitoring system for adult ads and do away with the erotic section.

Blumenthal's subpoena seeks documents related to the company's manual review process, which the company uses to review potentially objectionable ads, as well as documents that detail the revenue gained from ads sold to the company's erotic services or adult services categories.