Backpage Vs Feds: “Any Means Necessary” Part III

As of this writing both Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin are out on million-dollar bonds, secured by real estate the government eventually hopes to own when it wins its case against Backpage. The bulk of the charges against them fittingly fall under the Travel Act, a law designed by Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department to target organized crime. According to the indictment, Lacey, Larkin, and their underlings like Tony Ortega not only turned a blind eye to prostitution and child sexual trafficking but, driven by greed, actively worked to abet it. Their case is set for January 2020. “El Chapo got to trial quicker,” Lacey has been heard to quip to reporters.

Of course, our readers will recognize there is good reason for this delay. The government is building a knock out case that no loop hole will let the pair weasel out of.

And indeed the situation for the onetime Backpage kingpins looks bleak for them. The government has seized all of Lacey’s financial accounts and most or all of Larkin’s. Prosecutors have already produced more than 10 million documents and have promised more to come. For the time being, though, they’re drinking a lot reports say. And often. Perhaps there’s not much else to do when you are staring down the sort of judgment these two are.

Lacey got his start in journalism in 1970 when he and a group of antiwar comrades at Arizona State University founded what would become the Phoenix New Times. In the beginning, he alleges, he sold his blood to pay the bills. He met Larkin two years later—not long after Lacey’s father and mother were found frozen to death in a rented trailer in Oswego, New York. (“It was a murder- suicide,” Lacey has been quoted as saying. “They were drunk, and she turned on the gas.”) Sounds like tragic endings run in the family.

The men had a lot in common. Both were college dropouts, both had dark, troubled childhoods.

In 1977, Lacey and Larkin staged a hostile takeover. They wrested control of the New Times from Lacey’s cofounders and set about turning the fledgling broadsheet into an illicit empire. Larkin worked out the revenue model, emphasizing classifieds and personals. (While a page of big retail ads might net $1,000, a page of classifieds, 100 ads at $25 a pop, could bring in $2,500.)

It was this focus on selling classifieds that would prove to be their undoing.

Six years later, they began to expand. They bought up struggling weeklies in cities across the country with the goal of being able to sell more ads in more markets. And they didn’t care who they had to step on to make it happen. As Lacey once told an interviewer:

“If you don’t get up in the morning and say ‘Fuck you’ to someone, why even do it?”

This attitude would bring them into conflict almost daily and they tangled with shareholders, authorities, competitors, printers, and municipalities constantly.

Lacey, who in those early days wrote numerous stories himself, was known to cold-cock reporters and pummel press aides, usually when alcohol was involved. By his own estimation, Lacy has told the press he estimates he’s been arrested “10 or 11 times”.

When violence didn’t settle things, Lacey and Larkin often moved matters to the courtroom as an intimidation tactic. Litigation was their idea of fun, the continuation of strong-arming the weaker guy by other means. If you can’t beat someone with honest argument, beat them up with written lies. If that doesn’t work do whatever it takes to break them.

They were fake tough-guy wannabes from the very start of their sham operation and Tony Ortega was about to learn their same dirty tricks because Lacey and Larkin had their sights on what they saw as the crown jewel of alt weekly rags: The Village Voice.

And they were dead set on getting their sweaty hands on it, by any means necessary.

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