Police testimony within the 18th day of trial over Backpage.com renewed
questions as as to if adverts positioned on the classifieds website had been apparent
sufficient to recommend prostitution if taken at face worth.
Brian Griffin, a police lieutenant from Northborough, Massachusetts, who investigated Backpage
escort adverts from 2012 to 2015, advised federal prosecutors Friday morning
that he may by no means make a prostitution arrest based mostly solely on an advert
positioned on the web site — irrespective of how apparent it could be what companies
had been being provided.
Fifty of the 100 felony counts
Backpage founder Michael Lacey and 4 different former executives and
workers face in federal courtroom are accusations of facilitating
prostitution based mostly on racy adverts utilizing innuendos to recommend intercourse for cash,
usually billed as promoting escorts or full-body therapeutic massage companies.
The remaining counts relate to cash laundering and conspiracy.
Solely one of many 50 adverts listed within the indictment
instantly gives a sexual service for cash, although, and recognizing such
an advert is simply the “first step” in making a prostitution arrest, Griffin
“I have to do some extra work,” he advised the jury, like arranging
to satisfy up with the advert’s poster in individual and making a transparent settlement
to swap intercourse for cash.
Protection attorneys have argued that if police can’t arrest somebody for
inserting the advert, then the advert isn’t unlawful, and Backpage due to this fact isn’t
answerable for any unlawful actions that happen after it’s posted.
Prosecutors say each advert positioned in Backpage’s grownup escort part
was really for prostitution, making it apparent sufficient to the
defendants that by promoting adverts they had been enabling prostitution to be
offered on its website.
“Have you ever ever known as an advert like this advert, and it turned out to not be a prostitute?” prosecutor Austin Berry requested Griffin.
“No,” Griffin replied, talking to roughly two dozen prostitution arrests he has made.
“So, 100% of the time, it is a prostitute?”
That testimony was maybe contradicted by Anastasia Beck, a girl
who was offered on Backpage at simply 15 years previous in 2015. Beck testified
Thursday that twice a buyer responded to her prostitution advert and
requested solely to speak or go for a stroll. However Beck had talked about
exchanging intercourse for cash with each of these clients over the cellphone,
she mentioned, and she or he met up with them anticipating to have intercourse till the
clients urged in any other case.
Legal professional Bruce Feder, representing Backpage’s former govt vice
president Scott Spear, requested repeatedly whether or not Beck had appeared in adverts
for intercourse work on different websites like Fb and Craigslist. He and different
protection attorneys have greater than as soon as urged that such web sites host
much more objectionable content material than Backpage, asking why Backpage is
beneath fireplace whereas different websites aren’t.
The choose sustained an objection to that query beneath Federal Rule 412,
which prohibits questioning intercourse crime victims about different previous or
current sexual conduct not instantly associated to the case at hand.
Feder earlier requested Beck whether or not she learn Backpage’s phrases of
service, which included a piece prohibiting customers beneath the age of 18.
Beck mentioned she didn’t learn the phrases and clicked that she was 18 anyway.
The federal government on Friday known as one other witness who was trafficked
by way of the location on the age of 15, Jessica Svendgard. The now-28-year-old
mentioned she was featured in at the very least 100 adverts in 2010.
Legal professional Pleasure Bertrand, representing former Backpage assistant
operations supervisor Joye Vaught, elicited on cross-examination that
police ultimately contacted Svendgard by means of Backpage and arrested and
prosecuted her pimp, pointing to Backpage’s usefulness to police in
The protection has emphasised quite a few occasions that Backpage merely hosted
an area for content material to be posted and might’t be held accountable for what
clients did with the house.
Lacey’s lawyer Paul Cambria cross-examined Griffin, who mentioned he
used cellphone numbers listed on Backpage to seek out prostitutes in his space.
“Was there ever a contemplation of charging the cellphone firm?” he requested.
“No,” Griffin replied.
Prosecutors argue the Backpage adverts had been clearly prostitution as a result of
they contained hyperlinks to The Erotic Evaluation, a website devoted to ranking
and reviewing prostitutes for different clients to learn earlier than a
However Cambria requested one other officer who testified early Friday morning
whether or not he knew whether or not the sexual conduct described in these critiques
“There’s no approach for me to confirm whether or not the critiques had been true,” Phoenix Police Detective Eric Murray replied.
Murray mentioned Thursday that whereas he assumed adverts positioned within the grownup
escort part had been prostitution, like Griffin, he couldn’t make an
arrest based mostly on that assumption.
Prosecutors ended the week going over Backpage’s funds with an
Inner Income Service investigator, although they haven’t but drawn a
hyperlink from the corporate’s transactions to the cash laundering prices
going through the defendants.