The founder and chief executive officer of Backpage.com, a website linked to human trafficking, has pleaded guilty to charges including conspiring to facilitate prostitution and money laundering.
Carl Ferrer, 57, of Frisco, Texas, will face a maximum of five years in prison. Part of his plea agreement with federal and state authorities includes forfeiting all corporate assets related to the website and making sure it's permanently shuttered.
Federal authorities seized control of the website last week so "it can no longer be used by criminals to promote and facilitate human trafficking," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement released by the Department of Justice on Thursday.
"For far too long, Backpage.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike," Sessions said. "But this illegality stops right now."
Ferrer "has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to facilitate prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce and to engage in money laundering," according to the DOJ statement.
Ferrer's plea deal also covers Backpage-related charges in California and Texas, according to court documents.
California Attorney General Xavier Bacerra said Ferrer pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering. As part of the deal, Ferrer will cooperate in aiding the prosecution of two controlling shareholders of the website. Those cases remain in Sacramento Superior Court.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Ferrer pleaded guilty to money laundering and that his company is pleading guilty to human trafficking.
"According to the factual basis of his plea agreement, Ferrer admitted that he had long been aware that the great majority of Backpage's 'escort' and 'adult' advertisements are, in fact, advertisements for prostitution services, which are not protected by the First Amendment and which are illegal in 49 states and in much of Nevada," the DOJ statement said. "Ferrer further admitted that he conspired with other Backpage principals to find ways to knowingly facilitate the state-law prostitution crimes being committed by Backpage's customers."
Since 2004, according to the DOJ, Backpage "has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from publishing 'escort' and 'adult' ads."