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Aug 29

More DOJ lies: Secret memos reveal prosecutors knew that Backpage.com was innocent of “human trafficking”—but they launched a prosecution anyway. Now a federal judge has ordered the memos sealed

In case more proof was needed that government budgets are bloated and overflowing . . .

For years, US voters have elected politicians who promised to cut government. Such politicians have then gone to state and federal capitols and voted for ever-more government.

A frequent tactic of “limited government” Republicans who win elections is to get sworn in and then immediately spot some new emergency which requires more government spending instead of budget cuts. A frequent target (at the state capitol level) is drunk driving.

Another ‘emergency’ is “human trafficking”; especially child trafficking. Politicians are rarely short of condemnation for this allegedly exploding menace. In reality, almost all “human trafficking” is simply consensual prostitution; and those who go searching for child prostitution have great difficulty finding any.

In 2018, federal prosecutors announced a major indictment against the proprietors of the www.backpage.com website for conspiracy, facilitating prostitution and money laundering. The U.S. government even seized and shut down the entire website.

Backpage.com offered internet classified ads for cars, jobs, real estate and personal relationships. It did include ads by strippers, massage providers and adult entertainment—all of which was entirely lawful.
But the sexy imagery of many classified ads attracted the attention of would-be heroes in government for a decade.
“For far too long, Backpage.com existed as…a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike,” said then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions upon the announcement of the April 2018 Backpage.com indictment.
But last year federal prosecutors accidentally sent an internal memo to defense lawyers which admitted the DOJ had no case.

The government’s case against Backpage.com, according to Reason magazine, “was hampered by the fact that Backpage kept trying to help stop sex trafficking.” In fact, Backpage.com took proactive steps to identify and block ads for prostitution and child exploitation.

“Witnesses have consistently testified that Backpage was making substantial efforts to prevent criminal conduct on its site, that it was coordinating efforts with law enforcement agencies and NCMEC [the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children], and that it was conducting its businesses in accordance with legal advice,” wrote Swaminathan and McNeil in 2013. Furthermore, they noted, their investigation failed “to uncover compelling evidence of criminal intent or a pattern or reckless conduct regarding minors.” In fact, it “revealed a strong economic incentive for Backpage to rid its site of juvenile prostitution.”

The site even ran continuous “Report Ad” button for readers to report suspected sexual exploitation content. The site also featured prominent links to the NCMEC CyberTipline. And while most sections of Backpage were free for users, “Backpage followed Craigslist’s policy, initiated at the suggestion of NAAG, of charging a fee for each adult services advertisement,” something NAAG championed for its ability to reduce ad volume and yield evidentiary data for law enforcement.

All of this was acknowledged by prosecutors emails to each other. But shockingly, a federal judge has barred Backpage.com’s defense lawyers from using the internal DOJ memos as part of their clients’ defense. The previous judge handling the case (who recused himself) agreed with the prosecution that the memos, which had been filed under seal in the Western District of Washington, must remain sealed and that the defense must destroy its copies. See here.