From Carl Ferrer to Tony Ortega: A History Of Backpage’s Subterfuge To Avoid Scrutiny

Andrew Padilla

On April 24, 2014, Joye Vaught sent an email to Backpage’s moderators (while cc’ing Andrew Padilla). In this email, Vaught explained that if a moderator came across an ad containing a link to a a “sex for money” website, the moderator should add the link to a list of banned terms but “don’t bother removing it from the current ad.” And that’s about as explicit an admission of guilt as there is.

All of this underscores everything we’ve been saying, namely that for years Backpage skated by on feigned ignorance, flimsy denials, and blatant lies being pushed by Tony Ortega through the Backpage-owned propaganda outlet, the Village Voice. By the spring of 2014 the tide had turned against Tony Ortega’s spin and public opinion was shifting on Backpage; by the fall substantial lawsuits against the whole criminal scheme would begin rolling out.

Indeed, on September 4, 2014, Backpage was served with a brief that had been filed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in a lawsuit in Washington state court. In this brief, NCMEC criticized the sincerity of Backpage’s efforts to prevent child sex trafficking.

As the complaint detailed:

“Backpage has repeatedly claimed in public statements and court filings that it is working to reduce child sex trafficking on its website. The unpleasant reality is that Backpage publicizes carefully selected operational processes as a subterfuge to avoid increased scrutiny, while providing traffickers with easy access to an online venue to sell children for sex. In practice, Backpage’s stated interest in doing something meaningful to stop child sex trafficking ads on its site is apparently overridden by the enormous revenue it generates from its escort ads, including ads selling children for sex.”

Tony Ortega Backpage Apologist

If ever there were a phrase to capture the essence of the Backpage ethos, surely “subterfuge to avoid increased scrutiny for selling children for sex” would certainly be a contender. Because this, of course, was exactly what they were doing — all the way from Carl Ferrer in the CEO board room down to the lowly lapdogs like Tony Ortega — the defense of Backpage was shell game designed to obscure its true criminal intent.

But this con was not a game Backpage would win, not even with their master of misdirection Tony Ortega steering the public dialog. With the NCMEC lawsuit the cat was out of the bag. And law enforcement was paying attention.

On March 17, 2015, a law enforcement officer with the California Department of Justice spoke with a Backpage representative concerning the prevalence of blatant prostitution ads on Backpage. In response, the representative did not dispute the officer’s characterization at all and said the internet and prostitution were not going away no matter how many complaints they received.

 In other words, Backpage was doubling down on its deceit and stubbornly pushing ahead with their prostitution racket. As we shall see in our next post, law enforcement would take a very dim view of this unrepentant attempt to steamroll investigation to their operation…

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