Federal authorities spent months investigating to gather enough evidence against the website Backpage.
They strongly suspected that the online classified advertising website engaged in illegal activities including human trafficking, and their investigation has now led to the arrest of its executives.
Michael Lacey, co-founder the Backpage, was arrested as authorities alleged that he participated in the activities. Apart from Lacey, other people who ran the website, including former co-founders, were also arrested.
According to a 93-countindictment from the Department of Justice, the charges are largely related to facilitating prostitution and money laundering. The indictment includes a total of seven defendants, including Lacey.
The Story Behind Backpage and Its Closure
The entire website of Backpage.com was seized by the authorities before charges were announced by the DOJ on Monday.
Users were quick to react to the closure of the site because apart from the illegal trafficking, the platform was also used by a number of individuals who used it for other purposes.
They posted screenshots of the website which had a seizure notice from the DOJ with a caption that read, “Backpage.com and its affiliated websites have been seized.”
Users later confirmed that when they tried to access the website in Canada, it still had the Justice Department notice while the United States version of the website came with an error message.
Before this seizure and arrest took place, Backpage decided to shut down its adult section in January 2017 to avoid further issues. The shutdown took place on the same day Lacey and other top executives of the website testified in front of a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing last year.
Removing Adult Content
The website founders decided to get rid of adult content from the website because the advertisements that were displayed on the website had some controversial items.
The classified ads explicitly promoted human trafficking with provoking images which were later moved to the singles page.
While the founders managed to escape the law in the past, the federal authorities didn’t stop the investigation and continued to probe further into the type of classified ads that were being displayed in the website on a regular basis.
Worldwide Raid on All Backpage Offices
After having planned the arrest for months, the authorities didn’t miss the opportunity as they wanted to make sure they grab the necessary evidence.
A simultaneous large-scale raid took place in all Backpage offices around the globe, along with a raid in Lacey’s home. According to reports, they have managed to grab hold of important internal e-mails as part of the evidence.
Federal authorities in their reports have mentioned that all internal e-mails were manually edited so as to allow illegal advertisements that promoted sex trafficking and other activities.
The website administrators setup a word filtering system in place which automatically deleted words that would trigger the federal authorities and continued to approve malicious ads.
Backpage earned a massive $135 million in 2014 and was valued at $600 million in 2015. The company made lucrative income through such activities but has now been brought under the law.
Co-founders Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey are being considered the prime accused along with other execs.