Judge OKs Money-Laundering Charges Against Backpage Execs

California prosecutors can bring money laundering charges against the creators of a website that prosecutors label an online brothel, a judge ruled Wednesday. But he dismissed other charges months after another judge threw out the entire case as violating free speech and federal protections.

Prosecutors filed new and expanded charges against Backpage.com chief executive Carl Ferrer and website founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin this spring. The three pleaded not guilty after the judge allowed the money laundering charges.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Larry Brown also dismissed 15 pimping conspiracy and other charges against Backpage.com's operators.

He ruled that those charges relate to their publishing of sex-related advertisements and cannot be filed because of a federal law protecting free speech that grants immunity to websites that post content created by others.

Brown sided with California's state attorney general that 25 of the original 27 money laundering charges alleging illegal bank fraud can proceed.

Prosecutors have said that Backpage's operators illegally funneled money through multiple companies and created various websites to get around banks that refused to process transactions.

Backpage.com is a classified advertising webpage that prosecutors say gets more than 90 percent of its revenue -- millions of dollars each month -- from thinly disguised ads for prostitution.

The website shuttered its adult services section in January, but officials have said much of the same advertising has migrated to the site's dating and massage sections with similar provocative photographs and wording.

California prosecutors and U.S. Senate investigators contend that Backpage leads the market in commercial sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including the trafficking of children.

But federal and state officials have been struggling with how to deal with the website without violating free speech protections. The U.S. Supreme Court in January left in place a different lower-court ruling that...

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