Carl Ferrer, CEO and co-founder of the classified ad website Backpage.com, cut a plea deal with state and federal prosecutors, admitting that he knew that the site had become a massive online marketplace for prostitution, reports Politico. Ferrer, 57, agreed to plead guilty to charges in state courts in Texas and California and federal charges in Arizona in a bid to resolve an array of criminal investigations he was facing over his role in the site. The deal appears to limit Ferrer’s potential prison time to no more than five years.
“I have long been aware that the vast majority of these advertisements are, in fact, advertisements for prostitution services (which are not protected by the First Amendment and which are illegal in 49 states and much of Nevada),” Ferrer acknowledged. Ferrer and other Backpage officials hadinsisted they were policing the website aggressively to remove such advertising. Ferrer admitted in the plea deal that those efforts were just window dressing. “I worked with my co-conspirators to create ‘moderation’ processes through which Backpage would remove terms and pictures that were particularly indicative of prostitution and then publish a revised version of the ad,” he said in the plea document. “It was merely intended to create a veneer of deniability for Backpage.” Federal officials have shut down Backpage and obtained a 93-count grand jury indictment charging seven people with money laundering and using the internet to facilitate prostitution.