Tony Ortega’s pants should be on fire.
In recent testimony in the trial of Michael Lacey, co-owner of the notorious and defunct online brothel Backpage.com, and four former employees, federal prosecutors put the lie to much of Ortega’s earlier false assertions in defense of the website.
Ortega disingenuously invoked the First Amendment, claiming it was “shouted down in the name of children. … Having run off Craigslist [another online classified ad business which closed its adult section], reformers, the devout, and the government-funded have turned their guns upon Village Voice Media.”
FAIR Girls, a trafficking victim rescue and support group, presented a different set of facts: “Virtually all of FAIR Girls’ clients—some as young as eleven—have at some point been sold through Backpage.com.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that Backpage was responsible for 73 percent of all child trafficking reports they received from the general public—10,000 reports each year on their CyberTipline.
Ortega called this a “small number.”
A 2011 letter from the National Association of Attorneys General to Backpage.com’s attorney Samuel Fifer stated, “We have tracked more than 50 instances, in 22 states over three years, of charges filed against those trafficking or attempting to traffic minors on Backpage.com. …These cases often involve runaways ensnared by adults seeking to make money by sexually exploiting them.”
In a U.S. Senate hearing during the investigation of Backpage.com, Senator Claire McCaskill reported: “This Subcommittee has done the frankly big job of identifying all of the underage cases in public media of trafficking of children on Backpage. We have identified more than 400 cases in 47 states linked to Backpage advertising.”
Shared Hope International, a leading anti-trafficking organization, estimates that “providers working with child sex trafficking victims have reported that between 80% and 100% of their clients have been bought and sold on Backpage.com.”
The final nail was driven into the coffin of Ortega’s faked truth when government attorneys in the current trial put three women on the witness stand and the jury heard firsthand the inhuman damage wrought by Backpage.com advertisers.
Anastasia Beck was peddled by her pimp on Backpage.com when she was just 15 years old.
Jessica Svendgard was a 15-year-old runaway when she was trafficked by a pimp who advertised and was paid for her services on Backpage.com for more than 100 days. “I was 15. I should have experienced a childhood during my teenage years. I should be going to football games,” she said.
“These traffickers know what they are doing and they view young girls as commodities that they can sell,” she said. “I was just one of the endless stream of young girls that they pull into this life.”
She was forced to have sex with adult strangers for money. She was raped, brutalized and held prisoner before police rescued her in a sting resulting in her pimp and one of her “johns” prosecuted and sent to prison. “Now I’m a proud survivor, a mother, a daughter, a sister. I am all of these things and I want to be known for who I am, and not just what’s happened to me.”
Topless photos of Breahannah Leary, 24 when she posted her first ad on Backpage in 2012, were shown to the jury during her testimony October 11 in the current trial. Within a minute of the ad appearing, she said, “my phone was ringing off the hook. … I did go and have dates with gentlemen … acts of prostitution.”
She later became involved with a pimp, Brock Franklin, who imprisoned and brutalized her and many other women and girls before she was eventually persuaded by law enforcement to testify against him and win her freedom. Franklin received a record-breaking 472-year sentence.
In the Backpage.com trial in Phoenix, the defendants are facing a 100-count indictment for facilitating prostitution, money laundering and conspiracy, with sentences that could send them to jail for the rest of their lives if they are convicted.
From its founding in 2004 to 2018 when the government shut it down, Backpage.com reaped $500 million for its founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin and their enterprise. Larkin committed suicide before the current trial began.
Tony Ortega owed his Village Voice paycheck to profits from Backpage.com until he was fired by Larkin and Lacey in 2012 for drawing too much attention to Backpage through his obsessive postings about Scientology, a vocal critic of Backpage.