Backpage.com CEO charged with felony pimping

HOUSTON – The chief executive officer of a website accused of facilitating prostitution appeared in Harris County Criminal Court Friday on a fugitive warrant.

Carl Ferrer was handcuffed as guards walked him into the courtroom. Ferrer faces 10 counts of felony pimping charges out of California. Authorities from California, Texas and the Department of Justice arrested Ferrer Thursday at Bush Intercontinental Airport, after Ferrer landed in Houston on a flight from Amsterdam.

Ferrer's attorneys struck an agreement Friday with the prosecution and he signed a waiver to be extradited to California.

Prosecutors from Harris County and California were in the courtroom, but did not address reporters on the case.

Officials in Texas and California said a three-year investigation found that adult and child trafficking victims were forced into prostitution through ads on Backpage.com. Kamala Harris, California's Attorney General, called the website an "online brothel."

Authorities said they interviewed more than six victims who said they paid Backpage.com to post ads promoting prostitution. One of the victims was 13.

Ferrer was expected to be extradited to California as early as 2 p.m. Friday.

Under the conditions of the agreement, his passport was confiscated.

He will appear in court on the pimping charges.

Ferrer's attorneys said Ferrer looks forward to "vigorously fighting these charges."

"He's looking forward to his day in court, where he gets to battle back on these charges," said Phillip Hilder, Ferrer's attorney.

Prosecutors have not released much about the evidence against Ferrer, or two lead shareholders listed in the criminal complaint from California.

Neither has Ferrer's defense.

Brian Wice, KPRC2 legal analyst, said Ferrer's defense will likely argue that backpage.com did not endorse or facilitate prostitution. Rather, it sold ads to other parties who may be directly impacted by the allegations. Posting the ads, experts said the defense might argue, is Ferrer's Constitutional right, as outlined in the First Amendment.

Still, Wice cautions, the Constitution has parameters and is in place to protect everyone.

"It's not a suicide pact. It is there to protect everybody, including those kids who are being trafficked," Wice said.

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