The Backpage.com Legal Saga: Mistrial Called in Backpage Case
Christine Biederman’s article, “Inside Backpage.com’s Vicious Battle With The Feds,” Wired.com, 18 Jun 2019, does an excellent job contrasting Backpage’s founder’s, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, long and successful history thwarting state and federal pimping, sex trafficking, illegal sex work, catering to sexual predators, etc charges with the latest federal case which began in 2018 with the bulk of the charges now under the Travel Act, a law designed by Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department to target organized crime. On 6 April 2018, federal law enforcement agencies seized Backpage.com and its affiliated websites (EvilEmpire.com and BigCity.com) and shuttered the sites. Lacey, Larkin, and five other former executives were arrested and charged with money laundering and facilitating prostitution (pimping). On 9 Apr 2018, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a press release, “Justice Department Leads Effort to Seize Backpage.Com, the Internet’s Leading Forum for Prostitution Ads, and Obtains 93-Count Federal Indictment,” and provided a copy of the indictment (61 pages). On 12 Apr 2018, in a separate federal conspiracy case in Arizona and state money laundering charges in California, Carl Ferrer, Chief Executive Officer of Backpage, pled guilty to one charge of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering and agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of Lacey and Larkin. In Aug 2018, Dan Hyer, the Director, Sales and Marketing of Backpage, pled guilty to conspiring to facilitate prostitution, acknowledging that he participated in a scheme to give free ads to prostitutes in a bid to draw them away from competitors and win over their future business.
A new federal trial was supposed to start in Jan 2020, but it was postponed several times as the parties battled over whether the case should be totally dismissed. The Samantha Cole article, “Mistrial Called in Backpage Case After Prosecutors Refuse to Stop Talking About Child Sex Trafficking,” Vice Motherboard, 14 Sep 2021, reports the judge presiding over the trial of Backpage founders Lacey and Larkin and four co-defendants, declared a mistrial on 14 Sep 2021, because the prosecution could not stop bringing up graphic and detailed accusations of child sex trafficking in a case where no charges involving sex trafficking exist. U.S. District Judge Susan Brnovich ruled that repeated references to child sex trafficking from Department of Justice prosecutors and their witnesses triggered her decision.
On 10 Jan 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa vacated a 9 Feb 2022 start date for the second trial of Lacey and Larkin, et al., while a defense appeal on the issue of double jeopardy works its way through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which set a briefing schedule for the appeal. If the defendants prevail at the Ninth, the case is dismissed. If not, the case will likely be sent back to Humetewa for rescheduling.