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Backpage trial resumes after defendant’s negative COVID test

September 10, 2021 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — The trial of the former operators of the classified site is continuing after one of the defendants tested negative for the coronavirus.

Witness testimony resumed in front of a jury in federal court in downtown Phoenix Friday morning.

Andrew Padilla, who worked as the site’s operations manager, was present a day after not feeling well. Judge Susan Brnovich ordered a recess so that Padilla could get a COVID-19 test.

Michael Lacey, James Larkin, Padilla and three other Backpage employees are on trial on prostitution facilitation charges in what authorities say was a scheme to knowingly sell ads for sex. All six have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors say the site hired content moderators whose job was not to remove prostitution ads but to edit them so they weren’t so blatant.

The defendants maintain they didn’t publish ads for sex and that the site was protected by the First Amendment in publishing legally allowable ads for escort services. Their lawyers also say the site beefed up its efforts to spot illegal ads and earned compliments from law enforcement for their assistance in investigations.