Backpage.com Lawyers Want Executives’ Pimping Charges Tossed

The operators of Backpage.com pushed for pimping charges to be tossed out for the second time Tuesday, two weeks after the website that prosecutors dubbed an online brothel stopped advertising adult services in the face of a congressional investigation.

The case sets up the latest in a series of legal battles -- one of which already reached the U.S. Supreme Court -- over a federal law designed to protect free speech online by granting immunity to websites that post content created by third-party users.

The California attorney general's office charged Backpage executives Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey and James Larkin last month with conspiracy to commit pimping and 26 counts of money laundering. Ferrer also is charged with 12 counts of pimping, seven involving children.

They are accused of knowingly profiting from prostitution. The charges allege that the three laundered nearly $37 million derived directly or indirectly from illegal activity from July 2014 through August 2016, with the monthly take often topping $2 million.

The expanded charges came two weeks after Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman dismissed an earlier case, ruling that the website's ads were free speech protected by the federal Communications Decency Act.

Attorneys for the men said the state is trying to make an end-run around that ruling and asked for Bowman to preside over the new case.

"It raises the same arguments that Judge Bowman has already ruled on," Jim Grant, an attorney for the three men, told Judge Curtis Fiorini.

He later said the new charges amount to "additional bites of the apple by the state."

The trio did not enter pleas. Defense attorneys moved to have the charges dismissed on the same grounds that Bowman accepted. Judge Fiorini told the men to return to court Feb. 9 to see which judge will handle the case.

Prosecutors say they have new evidence. They...

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