Police in Texas have arrested the CEO of online advertising website Backpage.com and raided the company’s offices on charges of prostitution and sex trafficking.
CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested on a California warrant after arriving in Houston, Texas, on a flight from Amsterdam. California Attorney General Kamala Harris accused Ferrer and his partners of setting up “the world’s top online brothel” and aiding criminals who used the site to advertise prostitutes.
“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal,” Harris said in a statement.
Backpage.com is primarily used to host advertisements for adult escorts, but is also used to advertise goods, services and jobs.
Internal revenue reports obtained by the attorney general’s office show Backpage.com made 99 percent of its revenue between January 2013 and March 2015 from its “adult” advertisements, according to the statement. During that time, the company made around $51 million in revenue just in the state of California.
The charges came after a three-year investigation, in which the California Department of Justice used undercover agents to set up meetings with people who advertised in the “escort” section to confirm the meetings were arranged for commercial sex.
Ferrer, along with Michael Lacey and James Larkin, controlling shareholders of Backpage, were all charged with conspiracy to commit pimping, a felony. Ferrer also received charges for pimping a minor, as some of the prostitution ads were for victims younger than 18, according to Harris’ office.