BUFFALO, NY - When one of the founders of Backpage.com appears in a Federal Courthouse in Arizona next week amid charges that the classified website he started knowingly facilitated prostitution, a high-profile Buffalo attorney will be at his side.
Michael Lacey, one of seven individuals named in a 93-count indictment unsealed earlier this month, is represented by Paul Cambria.
The indictment also includes charges of money laundering.
The case garnered national headlines after Backpage.com and its affiliated websites were seized by federal law enforcers and taken off the internet.
Following that action on April 6, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement, “For far too long, Backpage.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike. But this illegality stops right now.”
Cambria told our news partners at the USA Today Network his defense to the charges will center on free speech grounds.
"You should be able to speak freely, meaning place your ad," said Cambria, who described the action taken by the government as a massive assault on the First Amendment. "If you do something that violates the law, then you should be punished, but not the host of the advertisement," he said.
Michael Piccarreta, the lawyer for Backpage.Com’s Operation’s Manager Andrew Padilla, another of those indicted, agrees.
Noting that his client was employed by a company that hosted third-party content, Piccaretta told Reuters, “He is not legally responsible for any actions of third parties under U.S. law. He is no more responsible than the owner of a community billboard when someone places an ad on it,” he said.
Backpage, launched in 2004, became the second most popular online classified site in the U.S. behind Craigslist.
In the indictment, The Justice Department claims Backpage earned $500 million in prostitution-related revenue since its inception