April 13 (UPI) -- The co-founder and CEO of Backpage.com pleaded guilty to several charges in California, Texas and federal court related to his company, officials announced Thursday.
Carl Ferrer's plea deals came after years of criticism of the website for facilitating sex trafficking through its personal ads that resulted in criminal charges -- beginning with an arrest in 2016 in Texas and escalating to federal charges on Friday against he and several people connected with the company, which was then seized by the FBI.
In Texas, Ferrer, 57, pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering while his company pleaded guilty to human trafficking.
In California, Ferrer pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering. As part of the plea, Ferrer promises to cooperate in the prosecution of Michael Lacey and James Larkin, who are shareholders in Backpage and have pleaded not guilty.
In both states, Ferrer faces five years in prison.
On the federal level, Ferrer pleaded guilty to conspiracy to facilitate prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce and to engage in money laundering.
As part of the federal plea deal, 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 Justice Department said in a statement.
"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."
One example the Justice Department included in its indictment was how Ferrer created a "moderation" process that would flag escort and adult ads that had content too indicative of prostitution and edit them to be less obvious.
"Backpage has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking, placing profits over the well-being and safety of the many thousands of women and children who were victimized by its practices," said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Strange.