JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley today announced that his office has filed a motion for criminal sanctions against Backpage.com related to false statements the company made in court. Backpage’s recent guilty pleas include admissions that directly contradict statements Backpage made in court proceedings with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.
In May 2017, Attorney General Hawley launched an investigation into Backpage and its role in human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of minors. The company subsequently filed a lawsuit attempting to block the investigation, claiming they were protected by federal law and the First Amendment against any claims made regarding alleged sex trafficking activity. In court filings, Backpage and its attorneys claimed that the site did not knowingly or intentionally facilitate sex trafficking.
In its recent plea agreements with federal authorities, Backpage confessed to knowingly engaging in human trafficking and money laundering activity, admitted that none of this activity was protected by law, and admitted that it consistently impeded efforts by law enforcement to investigate human trafficking activity. These admissions, under oath, make clear that from start to finish, Backpage based its entire lawsuit against the Missouri Attorney General’s Office on intentionally false statements intended to delay a lawful investigation.
Today’s motion for criminal sanctions calls for additional criminal penalties beyond what Backpage has already received, for Backpage to be required to create a restitution fund for Backpage’s trafficking victims in Missouri, and for Backpage to compensate both the Attorney General’s Office and the court for their legal expenses.
“Despite Backpage’s efforts to deceive the courts, we now know the truth,” Hawley said. “My message to them remains the same: there is no First Amendment right to engage in human trafficking. My Office will continue to use its powers to eradicate human trafficking from Missouri, and we will continue fighting against those who knowingly profit, facilitate, and benefit from this heinous crime.”
Fighting human trafficking remains a top priority for the Attorney General’s Office. To learn more about the Office’s continued efforts, visit MakeMoFree.com.
SOURCE: news provided by AGO.MO.GOV