SACRAMENTO -- Three men faced a Sacramento County judge for the first time Wednesday to address charges including conspiracy to commit pimping.
Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, executives with Backpage.com were arraigned Wednesday.
Defense attorneys said the charges against the men violate their first amendment rights. While California Attorney General Kamala Harris said the men unlawfully designed the website to be the world's top online brothel.
Ferrer faces 10 counts including pimping of a minor and conspiracy to commit pimping. Lacey and Larkin are charged with conspiracy to commit pimping.
They're accused of profiting from sex trafficking of adults and minors. Prosecutors said the trio made money by charging for ads in the website's adult services sections.
The hearing lasted just minutes, but defense attorneys said they're ready for a fight to prove their clients didn't do anything wrong.
"The complaint and the theory of prosecution in this case are flatly barred by the First Amendment and federal law, especially section 230 of the communications decency act," said defense attorney Liz McDougall.
The defense claims the First Amendment protects ads on Backpage and the Communications Decency Act protects web hosts of third party created content.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris who helped launch the investigation said the site exploits vulnerable victims. She called Backpage outrageous, despicable and illegal.
Ferrer, Lacey and Larkin are scheduled to be back in court Thursday for a bail hearing and again in November where their lawyers will try to prove the charges are legally insufficient.