Members of Congress Send Letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch Requesting DOJ Investigation of Backpage Practices
CHICAGO –(ENEWSPF)–August 10, 2015. U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), along with U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and U.S. Representatives Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), on Friday sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into Backpage.com, the nation’s most active sex-trafficking website.
Backpage is routinely involved in the online sale of sex, frequently sex with children. An estimated 70 percent of online sex trade transactions are arranged on Backpage, which earns upwards of $26 million annually from online advertisements. Each year, more than 100,000 children are estimated to be victims of sex-trafficking in the United States.
“Backpage.com is America’s biggest sex-trafficker – so it is confusing that DOJ wouldn’t investigate Backpage for the same reasons it investigated MyRedBook.com,” Senator Kirk said. “Investigating Backpage and its profiteers, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, would send a strong message to these exploiters of children and their advertisers.”
“Sex traffickers act anonymously through website purposely designed to hide the traffickers’ activities and enable traffickers to annually exploit at least 100,000 American children,” the Members wrote. “Among these victims approximately 80% are women and children who are bought, sold, and imprisoned in the traffickers’ underground sex service industry. The on-line selling of sex with children is a national horror that must be confronted.”
In the letter, the Members cited the DOJ’s successful prosecution last year of the owner of MyRedBook.com, a website that facilitated sex-trafficking until the FBI shut it down in June 2014. Earlier this year, the Members sent a similar letter to Attorney General Lynch’s predecessor, Eric Holder.
In May, Senator Kirk and Representative Wagner’s bipartisan legislation to combat the sale of children for sex online, the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act, was signed into law as part of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA). The SAVE Act aggressively combats Internet sex trafficking and the selling of children under the age of 18 for sex by making it a crime for a person, such as the owner of a website, to knowingly advertise a commercial sex act with a minor.
Senator Kirk recently backed Cook County, Ill., Sheriff Tom Dart after Backpage sued Dart for encouraging major credit card companies Visa, Mastercard and American Express to prevent their customers from using credit cards to buy adult ads on Backpage.com. Senator Kirk and Sheriff Dart have partnered to crack down on sex-trafficking facilitated by Backpage. Earlier this year they announced the arrests of 72 sex solicitors in Illinois as part of a nationwide sting operation.
The letter to Attorney General Lynch can be viewed here, and the text is below.
August 7, 2015
Dear Attorney General Lynch:
President Obama has stated that sex trafficking is the modern equivalent of slavery. The websites that serve as forums for the buying, selling, and the sexual exploitation of children are essentially functioning as modern slave auctions. We ask your U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to immediately take necessary steps to investigate the nation’s most active sex trafficking website, Backpage.com (Backpage), where an estimated 70% of the sex trafficking transactions are arranged, as well as Backpage’s longtime owners Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin.
Sex traffickers act anonymously through websites purposely designed to hide the traffickers’ activities and enable traffickers to annually exploit at least 100,000 American children. Among these victims approximately 80% are women and children who are bought, sold, and imprisoned in the traffickers’ underground sex service industry. The on-line selling of sex with children is a national horror that must be confronted. In pursuing Backpage, Lacey, and Larkin, we hope DOJ will coordinate and utilize its full resources, including the FBI’s field offices, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, the DOJ Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, and local law enforcement departments. Further, DOJ should investigate the circumstances surrounding Lacey’s and Larkin’s recent sale of Backpage to an undisclosed Dutch company.
As you undoubtedly are aware, Backpage, Lacey, and Larkin function in much the same manner as MyRedBook.com (MyRedBook). During June 2014 the FBI raided, seized, and shut down the California based sex trafficking website, MyRedBook, and charged its owner, Eric “Red” Omuro, with one count of interstate travel in the aid of a racketeering enterprise and twenty-four counts of money laundering. On December 11, 2014, DOJ secured its first federal conviction of a website operator for facilitation of prostitution when Omuro pleaded guilty to using the MyRedBook website to facilitate prostitution.
In his plea agreement Omuro admits how he used MyRedBook to facilitate prostitution. In all substantive ways Omuro’s factual admissions about his use of MyRedbook apply equally and are parallel to how Lacey and Larkin use Backpage to facilitate prostitution. Therefore, because of these similarities, DOJ should pursue Backpage, Lacey, and Larkin as aggressively as it pursued MyRedBook and Omuro. Like Omuro, Lacey and Larkin have designed Backpage to facilitate and broker illegal commercial sex transactions through anonymous, on-line advertisements, including advertisements involving child sex trafficking victims. In short, Backpage is at the center of a thinly disguised prostitution network. Because of these similarities between MyRedBook and Backpage, we urge DOJ to pursue Backpage, Lacey, and Larkin in the same aggressive manner.
We look forward to your response on the actions DOJ is taking to investigate and pursue Backpage, Lacey, and Larkin to rid the U.S. of this modern day slavery.