Federal agencies seized the website Backpage.com in an investigation of human trafficking. A sealed indictment reportedly charged the classified advertising website in the online sale of sex.
Michael Lacey, a founder of the New Times tabloid, has been charged in Phoenix in the apparent culmination of a federal human-trafficking investigation, the Arizona Republic reports. Authorities had been probing whether Backpage, the classified advertising website he co-founded, served as a willing participant in the online sale of sex, including with underage girls. On Friday, users posting screenshots on social media 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.” Backpage had shut down its adult section in January 2017, the same day Lacey 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, wife of Sen. John McCain and an outspoken opponent of human trafficking, said, “They’ve confiscated everything and shut the website down.”