Portman, McCaskill Statement on Arrest of Backpage.com CEO Ferrer

October 6, 2016 | Press Releases

PSI Investigation Into Backpage.com Will Continue

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), released the following statement regarding the arrest of Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer by California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris on human trafficking charges:

“For the past 18 months, we have led a bipartisan investigation into the scourge of online sex trafficking.  That investigation led us directly to Backpage, an online marketplace that has been involved in hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including child exploitation. We certainly wish that Backpage had willingly cooperated with our investigation. Despite its refusal to do so, our investigation was the first to uncover Backpage’s practice of editing ads in manner that serves to conceal evidence of criminality.  As law enforcement officials in Texas and California do their job, we will continue to press forward and complete our longstanding investigation.”

NOTE: The Subcommittee began its bipartisan investigation of human trafficking on the Internet in April 2015. With estimated annual revenues of more than $150 million, Backpage is a market leader in commercial sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including the trafficking of children. After Backpage refused to comply with a subpoena issued by Portman and McCaskill, the Senate passed a civil contempt resolution by a vote of 96-0 to authorize a lawsuit against Backpage.

On August 5, U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer ordered Ferrer to comply with the subpoena and hand over documents within 10 days. Judge Collyer’s opinion called Backpage’s refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena “untenable and without legal support,” and concluded that “[u]nderstanding the magnitude of Internet sex trafficking and how to stop it substantially outweighs Mr. Ferrer’s undefined interests.”  Backpage asked the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to stay Judge Collyer’s order, but the court denied that motion.  Backpage then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay Judge Collyer’s order, but the Supreme Court denied that motion.  Judge Collyer has given Ferrer until October 10 to either certify in writing that he has produced all document it owes the Subcommittee or else explain why he should not be held in contempt.   Contempt carries the sanction of monetary fines and/or imprisonment.

On November 19, 2015, the Subcommittee issued an extensive staff report about Backpage’s conduct and a held a hearing at which Ferrer refused to appear.