The chief executive of Backpage was arrested on Thursday and charged with conspiracy and pimping a minor after the authorities raided the company’s Dallas headquarters, according to court records.
Backpage.com, has faced accusations in various jurisdictions of engaging in sex trafficking, and hundreds of trafficking cases across the country have been linked to the site. But this is the first time that criminal charges have been brought against the company or its executives, the authorities said.
“Defendants have known that their website is the United States hub for the illegal sex trade and that many of the people advertised for commercial sex on Backpage are victims of sex trafficking, including children,” according to an affidavit for a warrant filed by Brian Fichtner, a special agent of the California Department of Justice.
Backpage describes itself as the second-largest online classified advertising service in the country, according to court records.
“They’re like the McDonald’s of trafficking,” an advocate said in an interview on Thursday night. “They made it so easy.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said there had been a more than 800 percent increase over the last five years in reports of suspected child sex trafficking, much of it online. Documents filed in the case included interviews with children who said they took out ads on Backpage.com after they were forced into prostitution.
A congressional investigation this year found that the website changed some of its adult classifieds to conceal the fact that the advertisements were for sex acts with minors. The company’s internal reports showed that from January 2013 to March 2015, 99 percent of its income was “directly attributable” to its adult advertising, Kamala D. Harris, the California attorney general, said in a news release. She said more than $51 million of its revenue came from California in that period.