Carl Ferrer was arrested in Houston on Thursday after flying back to the USA from Amsterdam, according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said at a press conference.
State agents have raided the Dallas offices of adult classified ad portal Backpage and arrested Chief Executive Officer Carl Ferrer following allegations that adult and child sex-trafficking victims were forced into prostitution through escort ads posted on the site.
Carl Ferrer was charged with pimping, pimping a minor and conspiracy to commit pimping.
Attorneys for the three company officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the charges.
Two other men characterized by California's attorney general as major shareholders in the company, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, are charged with conspiracy to commit pimping.
Backpage.com, which is widely used by escorts and other sex workers, has always been accused by authorities of not doing enough to crack down on child prostitution and sex trafficking being facilitated through the site.
A congressional investigation this year found that the website changed some of its adult classifieds to hide the fact that the advertisements were for sex with minors. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has repeatedly faulted the site for encouraging an online environment for child sex trafficking and failing to implement preventative steps to stamp out abuse. The ads typically feature almost nude photos and offer a menu of sex explained in coded language, prosecutors allege.
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The charges against Ferrer could bring him almost 22 years in prison, while Larkin and Lacey face a maximum six years.
"Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal", said Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a news release.
The Texas attorney general said Backpage exploited both adults and children for financial gain.
"Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world's top online brothel", Harris said.
Backpage's internal revenue reports show that between January 2013 and March 2015, 99 percent of Backpage's income was attributed to the "adult" section, according to the California press release. Cell phones, SIM cards and other memory cards or equipment related to cell phones in the care, custody, or control of Ferrer were also sought.
For more than six months, Ferrer has been locked in a court fight with a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Securtity and Government Affairs Committee, which subpoenaed extensive records from Backpage and Ferrer.
"We believe that ads for prostitution - including ads trafficking children - are rampant on the site and that the volume of these ads will grow in light of Craigslist's recent decision to eliminate the adult services section of its site", the letter said.