Jurors at the criminal trial of Michael Lacey, the founder of classified site Backpage.com, heard opposing views in closing arguments regarding his knowledge of prostitution ads on the site. Prosecutor Kevin Rapp argued that Lacey was aware of the content of ads indicative of prostitution, as most of the site’s revenues came from adult ads. Lacey’s attorney, Paul Cambria, countered that his client was focused on running an alternative newspaper chain and was not involved in the day-to-day operations of Backpage.
This is the second trial for Lacey and four former Backpage employees, who have pleaded not guilty to charges of facilitating prostitution. Lacey and two others have also pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges. The first trial ended in a mistrial in September 2021 due to excessive references to child sex trafficking. Lacey and his late business partner, James Larkin, founded the Phoenix New Times weekly newspaper and held ownership interests in other weeklies such as The Village Voice.
Prosecutors allege that Backpage’s operators knowingly sold sex ads and ignored warnings to stop running them, including those involving children. They are accused of giving free ads to sex workers and cultivating arrangements with others in the sex trade. Backpage’s legal team argues that the site’s content was protected by the First Amendment and that their moderation efforts were aimed at deleting inappropriate ads.
The trial is set to resume on Tuesday, with lawyers for the other defendants presenting their closing arguments.