Backpage.com's Founders, Employees Indicted on Charges of Facilitating Prostitution

Seven people have been charged on 93 prostitution-related counts

Backstage.com owners James Larkin and Michael Lacey, along with five of their employees, have been indicted on 93 prostitution-related charges. Credit: Cliff Owen/AP/REX Shutterstock

A federal grand jury in Arizona has indicted Backpage.com's founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, along with five of their employees, on 93 counts, Reuters reports. Knowingly facilitating prostitution, sex trafficking and money laundering are among the charges the classified-ads website is being accused of in the indictment.

On Friday, Backpage.com and its affiliated websites were seized by U.S. federal law authorities and taken offline. The indictment was made public on Monday.

The unsealed indictment includes details on 17 alleged victims, who range in age from adults to as young as 14 years old. One incident involves a teenager who was allegedly forced to perform sex acts at gunpoint, choked and gang-raped. Others include two victims who were allegedly murdered: One was stabbed to death, and a customer allegedly killed another victim in 2015 and tried to burn her corpse.

The indictment accuses the executives – Lacey, 69, and Larkin, 68 – of presenting Backpage as a site to advertise escort services while knowing that "the overwhelming majority of the website's ads involve prostitution." Backpage's executive vice president Scott Spear, chief financial officer John "Jed" Brunst, sales and marketing director Dan Hyer, operations manager Andrew Padilla and assistant operations manager Joye Vaught were also charged.

According to the indictment, the U.S. Justice Department accuses Backpage.com of earning prostitution-related revenue of $500 million since its founding in 2004. It is also accused of money laundering, by allegedly funneling funds in and out of foreign accounts and converting it into and out of cryptocurrencies. Additionally, Backpage employees are accused of aiding customers in editing ads and advising them on how they should be worded to appear legal.

"For far too long, Backpage.com existed as a dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement to Reuters.