Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, co-founders of Backpage.com, are set to stand trial in 2020 for charges related to running prostitution ads and money laundering. Both have proclaimed their innocence and maintain this is a First Amendment issue.
In 1970, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin founded the Phoenix New Times, an alternative weekly news publication. By 1983 their media empire had grown to 17 alternative publications. On October 18, 2007 the homes of Lacey and Larkin were raided, and the pair arrested, on the orders of then sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio was unhappy with the pair for publishing an article which divulged that the paper had received grand jury subpoenas targeting information about the paper’s writers, editors, and even its readers.
Within 24 hours of the arrest charges were dropped and the pair freed. Following their release, an investigation found the grand jury subpoenas were fraudulent and obtained by an overzealous prosecutor. The pair sue and near the end of 2013 won a settlement, for the wrongful arrest, in the amount of $3.75 million. Learn more about James Larkin and Michael Lacey: https://angel.co/jim-larkin-1 and https://about.me/jim_larkin
They then used the money to establish the Lacey & Larkin Frontera Fund, which distributes the proceeds from the settlement to Latin-American groups throughout the state of Arizona.
The Current Indictment
The 93-count indictment issued on April 9, 2018, alleges multiple counts of conspiracy, facilitating prostitution, various forms of money laundering. Due to the allegations the United States is seeking forfeiture of Lacey and Larkin’s property, bank accounts, and businesses – including Backpage.
Opponents of Backpage
Leading the charge against Backpage is Cindy McCain, co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Human Trafficking Council. McCain, without evidence, has publicly stated Backpage “sells children for sex.” McCain apparently equates all sex work with sex trafficking, disparaging all adult advertising. McCain and other opponents argue the site facilitates sex trafficking and should be held legally responsible.
Supporters of Backpage
Supporters of Backpage believe the site gives those who engage in consensual sex a safe place to meet clients and denounce the claims made by opponents. Leading the fight against the government is Michael Lacey’s attorney Paul Cambria, famously known for representing Larry Flynt.
Cambria asserts the FBI’s censorship of Backpage is unconstitutional and plans to vigorously defend his client’s First Amendment rights, expressing the chilling effect censorship has on society.
Lacey and Larkin’s arrest follows Congress passing FOSTA, Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which awaits Trump’s signature. If signed into law felony charges can be filed against website operators for publishing prostitution related ads. Which could lead to a website operator to be imprisoned for 10 years for facilitating the prostitution of one person and 25 years for five or more persons.
In response to the possible ramifications of FOSTA many large companies have began self-censoring their websites. Some shutting down all personal sections.
While both sides hash out these issues in court Backpage remains under the control of the FBI. While awaiting trial Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin are free on $1 million cash bonds.