The federal prosecution against the former owners and workers of Backpage.com, which was delayed by three weeks due to the passing of a key co-defendant, is getting close to opening arguments.
The infamous classified ad website Backpage’s founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, have long disputed claims of prostitution on their former classified ad website BackPage.com. BackPage.com has started to compete with Craigslist.com. The co-founders of the alternative weekly Phoenix New Times have been hailed as free speech defenders by some.
In 2018, the classifieds site Backpage.com made $500 million from displaying prostitution advertisements, prosecutors said. In 2018, the Justice Department reported that, seven individuals have been charged in a 93-count federal indictment with the crimes of conspiracy to facilitate prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce, facilitating prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce, conspiracy to commit money laundering, concealment money laundering, international promotional money laundering, and transactional money laundering.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange said in 2018, “It is appropriate that Backpage is now facing criminal charges in Arizona, where the company was founded, and I applaud the tremendous efforts of the agents who contributed to last Friday’s enforcement action and who assisted in obtaining the indictment in this case. Some of the internal emails and company documents described in the indictment are shocking in their callousness.”
The federal prosecution against the former owners and workers of Backpage.com, which was delayed by three weeks due to the passing of a key co-defendant-James Larkin who committed suicide, is getting close to opening arguments. Jury selection has begun for the three-month trial.
Since Lacey and Larkin had their assets seized and were detained in 2018, the attorneys for the remaining five defendants, who are each facing one hundred felony counts of assisting prostitution, money laundering, and conspiracy, have emphasized free speech as a primary argument.
Section 230, which was established in 1995, exempts service providers from liability for harmful or unlawful content posted on their websites, as long as the provider makes no further contributions to the content than the removal of obscene or illegal content.
According to the prosecution, the law does not protect unlawful speech, so the judge should forbid defendants from raising free speech as a defense. Humetewa concluded that they can classify their standard business operations as free speech because the onus of establishing that those actions were unlawful rests with the prosecution.
If Backpage only served as a third-party host of information, Section 230 would grant immunity. However, evidence in the previous trial supported the government’s assertions that Backpage officials changed advertising and suggested user adjustments to better evade detection by investigators.
The defendants, former chief financial officer John Brunst, former operations manager Andrew Padilla, and former assistant operations manager Joye Vaught could spend the rest of their lives in jail of the prosecution prevails.
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