Backpage Founder Charged by Feds After Human-Trafficking Investigation
A founder of the New Times tabloid has been charged in Phoenix in the apparent culmination of a federal human-trafficking investigation.
Authorities had spent months probing whether Backpage, the online classified advertising website he co-founded, served as a willing participant in the online sale of sex, including with underage girls.
An attorney for Michael Lacey, Larry Kazan, told The Arizona Republic at the federal courthouse in Phoenix on Friday afternoon that his client had been charged. Kazan said he did not know how many counts Lacey faced because the 93-count indictment was sealed.
The courtroom was closed to the public, and it was not immediately clear what charges are included in the indictment.
On Friday evening, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said in an email that a judge had ruled the case was still under seal. The Justice Department earlier had said, in a posting on seized Backpage websites, that more information would be released by 3 p.m. Arizona time on Friday.
FBI officials in Phoenix confirmed there had been "law-enforcement activity" at the Sedona-area home of Lacey, one of the co-founders of Backpage.com.
An Arizona Republic reporter also witnessed FBI activity at the Paradise Valley home of Jim Larkin, another Backpage co-founder.
Backpage website seizedBy noon Friday, users started posting on social media screenshots of what appeared to be a federal notice of the seizure of Backpage.
"Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized," the headline of the notice read.
The notice said the seizure was "part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, with analytical assistance from the Joint Regional Intelligence Center."
The notice was no longer present on the United States version of Backpage.com, though an error message appeared. The Canadian version of Backpage still had the Justice Department notice.
Backpage had shut down its adult section in January 2017, the same day Lacey, Larkin and other Backpage executives testified at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing. The men refused to answer questions at that hearing.
The types of ads that had appeared in the adult section of Backpage — with their racy photos -- migrated to the singles section. In recent weeks, in response to a federal law that would have held websites accountable for knowingly facilitating human trafficking, the ads were restricted to a phone number, photos and links to other websites.
Cindy McCain: 'Good day'
Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain and an outspoken advocate against human trafficking, said she had heard that federal law enforcement officials had raided not only Lacey’s home in the Verde Valley, but every office of Backpage world-wide.
“They’ve confiscated everything and shut the website down,” she said.
McCain called it a “good day” in the fight against human trafficking.