Feds Seize Backpage.com, Slap Charges on Founder of Site Accused of Profiting From Prostitution

Federal law enforcement authorities seized the classified ads website Backpage.com and hit the founder with charges as part of a broad operation that reportedly included lots of raids. Visitors to the site that has long been seen as a haven for online prostitution were met on Friday with a notice that said it had been seized as part of an enforcement action by the FBI, IRS, and Postal Inspection Service. The notice on the site doesn’t specify the nature of the enforcement action. Although additional information was expected Friday evening a judge decided the case should remain sealed.

Michael Lacey, a founder of the weekly newspaper Phoenix New Times and one of the founders of Backpage.com was charged in what appeared to be the end of a federal human-trafficking probe. His lawyer confirmed to the Arizona Republic that his client had been charged as part of a 93-count indictment that remained sealed. Law enforcement officers raided the Arizona homes of Lacey and Jim Larkin, another co-founder of the site.

The website had long been engulfed by scandal as state attorneys general and anti-sex trafficking groups said it facilitated prostitution and sex trafficking. A senate investigation into sex trafficking, for example, concluded that the website selectively edited words out of ads while also helping posters figure out how to post ads that would not be taken down.

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