Prosecutors Target Backpage’s Lawyers

We’ve previously reported that Tony Ortega has just cause to be worried about being legally implicated in the broad-sweeping net federal prosecutors are using to round up all those who played a part in the Backpage sex trafficking scandal. Today we find another reason for Tony Ortega to be concerned that justice will soon catch up to him.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has asked a federal judge to reconsider his decision to not order sanctions against the lawyers who represented Backpage.com in litigation against the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, saying new testimony from Backpage’s indicted CEO showed lawyers from the firm of Davis Wright Tremaine knew more than they said about the online classified site’s malfeasance. He claims the lawyers had full knowledge of Backpage’s success at using cryptocurrency and other alternative routes to evade the sheriff’s initial attempt to shut Backpage down over sex trafficking.

As it happens, earlier this month Dart filed a motion in Chicago federal court before a U.S. District Judge, asserting the sheriff is owed another chance to make the Davis Wright Tremaine firm pay for their part in helping Backpage and its executives mislead the judge about the company’s financial capabilities while arguing in court Dart was violating their constitutional rights.

Backpage had countersued the Sheriff’s Office in 2015, alleging the sheriff had overstepped his duties in contacting credit card companies to discourage them from processing payments from advertisers the company asserted it relied upon for revenue.

Dart had moved to restrict Backpage’s business over what he believed to be clear evidence sex traffickers were using Backpage to promote and facilitate prostitution and human trafficking.

Backpage ultimately secured an injunction against the sheriff’s office, arguing he had violated their constitutional speech rights by attempting to shut down the platform.

A few months later, however, several Backpage executives were indicted (with CEO Carl Ferrer pleading guilty) to charges of money laundering and facilitating prostitution. Ferrer pleaded guilty to state charges in Arizona and California, as well as federal charges.

As part of that plea, Ferrer damningly admitted the company’s civil rights lawsuit against Dart was nothing more than a “hoax” and “fraud” on the courts.

If prosecutors are successful in their arguments that foreknowledge of the hoax leaves the door open to legal jeopardy for those who knowingly abetted Backpage’s crimes, Tony Ortega’s future as a free man may have just become a lot less certain.

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