Million Dollar Madame 

As rich as Backpage’s founders, Michael Lacey, James Larkin and Carl Ferrer became as a result of their disastrous foray into the world of online child sex-trafficking, the massive generation of cash selling children for sex was hardly limited to the fat cats at the top of the pyramid scheme.

News broke this week of woman going by the moniker “Madame Priscilla Belle” who stands accused of running a multimillion-dollar prostitution ring out of a home she dubbed the “premier Dungeon of Chicago.

Jessica Nesbitt, 31, and her employees serviced “Johns” across Illinois, as well as in Washington DC, California, Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin, according to a 23-page federal indictment unsealed this past Wednesday in court.

Nesbitt advertised her makeshift bordello on Backpage.com, and a few of its more recent copy cat prostitution sites like Eros.com and Gentlemen’s Pages. Though initially connecting with ‘clients’ using the crime-friendly platform Backpage provided, the would-be madame quickly began to build her own business exploiting Backpage’s well-worn loopholes.

Authorities explained that Nesbitt shared flight arrangements for her workers with clients over email, and in one case, specifically instructed a staffer to have sex with a client that paid for the tryst.

It’s yet another example in the growing list of ironic parallels between the Backpage owners and the pimps they helped thrive — it very well could be the internal emails which ultimately lead to even more charges and, ultimately, longer prison sentences.

At an initial hearing in Chicago, Nesbitt pleaded not guilty to multiple prostitution-related charges and was released on $250,000 bond.

Attorney Barry Sheppard, perhaps channeling his inner Tony Ortega, argued that his client ran a legal fetish business — and not a prostitution ring. It’s exactly the sort of argument Ortega would use back when he was shilling for Backpage, waving the First Amendment while standing on the heads of exploited child sex trafficking victims.

Judge Maria Valdez warned Nesbitt that she’d be jailed if she did any sex work, including fetish activities, and advised the alleged madame to “find a different line of work.”  Truly a bit of advice Tony Ortega could have used 20 years ago.

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