US: 3 Septuagenarians Convicted in $500 Million Prostitution Promotion Scheme
A U.S. federal court convicted last week the geriatric former owners of a now defunct website, wherein they earned US$500 million in a prostitution promotion scheme while simultaneously covering up the site’s traffic from search engines and investigators.
Michael Lacey, 75; Scott Spear, 72; and John “Jed” Brunst, 71; all from Arizona, ran the now defunct Backpage.com, which, from its inception in September 2010 to its dismantling in April 2018, was the internet’s premier forum for illegal prostitution ads.
A fourth conspirator, James Larkin, 73, died on July 31, 2023 on the eve of the trial, which began in August.
Investigators proved that the seniors promoted prostitution through Backpage web forums, where clients could post reviews of prostitutes, including what sexual acts the women performed as well as their overall expertise.
To protect their illicit activities from law enforcement, the group employed human moderators and automated filters to prevent search engines from registering online search terms that would lead prying eyes to their sex-for-money advertisements.
Through this sanitization of their ad business, Lacey, Spear, and Brunst had hoped to claim plausible deniability in the event police came knocking to ask why their site was actively promoting illegal prostitution, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
From 2010 to 2018, the site’s business model generated more than $500 million.
A month before the site’s seizure by U.S. authorities, the men were charged with conspiracy to facilitate prostitution and facilitating prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce.
The jury also found the defendants guilty of multiple counts of money laundering. These charges stemmed from an elaborate scheme in which they funneled their ill-gotten ad-based revenue through numerous shell companies they created across multiple foreign countries.
Backpage’s co-founder and CEO, Carl Ferrer, 57, of Texas, pleaded guilty back in April 2018 to the same charges. Four months later, the site’s Sales & Marketing Director, Dan Hyer, 54, of Texas, similarly pleaded guilty.
As for Lacey, Spear, and Brunst, they each face a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison on each money laundering count.