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Press Release

Justice Department Leads Effort to Seize Backpage.Com, the Internet’s Leading Forum for Prostitution Ads, and Obtains 93-Count Federal Indictment

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Arizona

     PHOENIX –The Justice Department announced the seizure of, the Internet’s leading forum for prostitution ads, including ads depicting the prostitution of children.  Additionally, 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. 

     The seven defendants charged in the indictment are Michael Lacey, 69, of Paradise Valley, Ariz., James Larkin, 68, of Paradise Valley, Ariz., Scott Spear, 67, of Scottsdale, Ariz., John E. “Jed” Brunst, 66, of Phoenix, Ariz., Daniel Hyer, 49, of Dallas, Tex., Andrew Padilla, 45, of Plano, Tex., and Jaala Joye Vaught, 37, of Addison, Tex.

     Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange for the District of Arizona, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Phoenix Field Office Michael DeLeon, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Ismael Nevarez Jr., and Inspector in Charge Nichole Cooper, Los Angeles Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service made the announcement.

     “For far too long, existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike,” said Attorney General Sessions.  “But this illegality stops right now.  Today, the Department of Justice seized Backpage, and it can no longer be used by criminals to promote and facilitate human trafficking. I want to thank everyone who made this important seizure possible: all of our dedicated and committed professionals in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and our U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Arizona, the FBI, our partners with the IRS Criminal Investigation, our Postal Inspectors, and the Texas and California Attorney Generals’ offices. With their help, today we put an end to the violence, abuse, and heartache that has been perpetrated using this site, and we take a major step toward keeping women and children across America safe.”

     “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 A. Strange.  “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 FBI will aggressively investigate those who exploit young children and women to facilitate sex trade activities and associated money laundering schemes. The FBI, along with our partners at the Department of Justice, United States Attorney's Office, Internal Revenue Service,  and U.S. Postal Service are committed to combating this type of crime to protect victims and ensure the safety and wellbeing of our citizens and communities," stated Michael DeLeon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Phoenix Field Office.

     “Special Agents with IRS-CI are experts at investigating complex financial cases, including those involving the internet. IRS-CI is committed to assisting the U.S. Attorney’s Office in protecting the public from harm and delivering justice to those who are victimized by transnational internet crimes,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Ismael Nevarez Jr.

     “The charges brought today reflect the dedication of law enforcement to stop the exploitation of victims, including children,” said Inspector in Charge Nichole Cooper of U.S. Postal Inspection Service Los Angeles Division.  “Postal Inspectors have a history of investigating complex financial schemes used to maintain criminal enterprises, and we will continue our efforts to hold those engaged in such terrible crimes accountable for their actions.”             

     The charges and allegations contained in an indictment are merely accusations.  The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

     The effort to seize Backpage was led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona and the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, with significant support from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the office of the California Attorney General, and the office of the Texas Attorney General.  The law enforcement agencies supporting the seizure include the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division.  The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin Rapp, Dominic Lanza, and Margaret Perlmeter of the District of Arizona and Senior Trial Attorney Reginald E. Jones of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.  Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kucera of the Central District of California is handling the asset forfeiture aspects of the case.


CASE NUMBER:           CR-18-00422-PHX (BSB)

RELEASE NUMBER:    2018-033_Backpage


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Updated April 9, 2018

Asset Forfeiture
Consumer Protection
Press Release Number: 2018-033_Backpage / CR-18-00422-PHX (BSB)