SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The chief executive of a website that authorities have dubbed an "online brothel" pleaded guilty to reduced charges Thursday and agreed to cooperate in prosecuting the site's creators.
Carl Ferrer will serve no more than five years in state prison under the plea agreement.
He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering. He also agreed to cooperate in the ongoing California prosecution of Backpage.com founders Michael Lacey, and James Larkin. They have pleaded not guilty.
The founders also were among those indicted this month by a federal grand jury in Arizona. Ferrer was noticeably absent from the federal indictment, which referenced a "CF" who was heavily involved with the site.
Ferrer also agreed to make the company's data available to law enforcement.
The U.S. Justice Department shut down the website last week.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Larry Brown last year threw out pimping conspiracy and other state charges against Backpage's operators. Brown ruled that the charges are barred by a federal law protecting free speech that grants immunity to websites posting content from others.
President Donald Trump this week signed a law making it easier to prosecute website operators in the future.
But Brown allowed the state to continue with money laundering charges. Prosecutors allege Backpage's operators illegally funneled money through multiple companies and created websites to get around banks that refused to process their transactions.
"Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it is happening in our own backyard," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the plea deal.
"The shutdown of Backpage.com is a tremendous victory for the survivors and their families. And the conviction of CEO Ferrer is a game-changer in combatting human trafficking in California, indeed worldwide."