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New trial set for Backpage founders after recent mistrial

October 5, 2021 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — A new trial has been scheduled on Feb. 22 for the founders of the classified site Backpage.com after the first attempt at trying them on prostitution facilitation and money laundering charges ended in a mistrial.

A judge declared the mistrial three weeks ago after concluding that prosecutors had too many references to child sex trafficking in a case where no one faced such a charge.

Michael Lacey, James Larkin and four other people who worked at Backpage were accused of taking part in a scheme to knowingly sell ads for sex on the site.

Authorities say Backpage generated $500 million in prostitution-related revenue from its inception in 2004 until April 2018 when it was shut down by the government.

Prosecutors say Backpage’s operators ignored warnings to stop running prostitution ads, some involving children. They are accused of giving free ads to prostitutes and cultivating arrangements with others who worked in the sex trade to get them to post ads with the company.

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While prosecutors say the site published many ads that depicted children who were victims of sex trafficking, no one in the federal case in Arizona is charged with sex trafficking or child sex trafficking.

Lacey and Larkin said the site never allowed ads for sex and used people and automated tools to try to delete such ads. They maintained content on the site was protected by the First Amendment and that the site helped authorities in investigating sex trafficking cases.

In all, six former Backpage operators have pleaded not guilty to charges of facilitating prostitution. Of the six, Lacey, Larkin and two others have pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges.