Adult Classified Site ‘Backpage’ Raided, CEO Arrested in Texas

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SACRAMENTO -- A major bust in an online sex trafficking ring brings some relief to those combating exploitation.

The CEO and two controlling shareholders of classified advertising website are facing felony charges and are accused of sex trafficking after a three-year investigation that started in Sacramento.

Attorney General Kamala Harris called the website, "The world's top online brothel."

CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested in Texas Thursday on a California warrant. He is being charged with pimping a minor, pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping. Controlling shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin are charged with conspiracy to commit pimping.

The joint investigation into Backpage by the California and Texas attorneys general brought to light the adult and child sex trafficking victims that were forced into prostitution through escort ads on the website.

The investigation launched by the California Department of Justice uncovered the classified ad website allowed escort advertisements for prostitution. Many ads involved victims of sex trafficking including children.

"This is one of the biggest tools that the traffickers use, and the Johns who are looking for someone to have sex with," said Beth Hassett, CEO of Weave.

An arrest warrant said posting in the escort section cost money while posting in the buy, sell, trade section for furniture was free.

The warrant goes on to say from January 2013 to March 2015, 98.43 percent of Backpage's $51 million income from California was from adult ads.

Revenue from Backpage's ads paid the salaries and bonuses of Lacey, James and Ferrer.

"This is such good news for victims of trafficking," said Hassett.

It's also good news for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The organization says since 2012 it reported 2,900 instances of suspected child sex trafficking via Backpage in California.

In a statement CEO John Clark said, "NCMEC applauds the California and Texas attorneys general in pursuing criminal action against Backpage. As the leading non-profit working to end the sexual exploitation of children,  NCMEC knows that the primary way children are sold for sex in this country is through the use of online classified advertising websites, such as The criminal action initiated today will lead to new hope for children who are sold for sex online."

It's a win for those who combat sex trafficking, but there's still work to be done.

"It's a supply and demand business and as long as somebody is supplying these young girls and somebody is demanding them we can't stop it," said Hassett.

Ferrer will appear in court in Texas for an extradition hearing unless he waives it.

Backpage didn't respond to FOX40s request for comment.

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