SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Carl Ferrer, chief executive of advertising website Backpage.com, was arrested on Thursday on criminal charges including pimping, as authorities investigate the company which has been accused of facilitating sex trafficking of minors.
The attorneys general of Texas and California said in a statement that Ferrer had been taken into custody in Houston on a California warrant.
See images of the controversy surrounding the advertising website:
Controversy surrounding Backpage.com
Controversy surrounding Backpage.com
Carl Ferrer is pictured in this photo from his driver's license. Ferrer, the chief executive of advertising website Backpage.com, was arrested on Thursday on criminal charges including pimping, as authorities investigate the company which has been accused of facilitating sex trafficking of minors. Texas Attorney General?s Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
FILE - In this April 11, 2016, file photo Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts speaks at the Federal Circuit Judicial Conference in Washington. Roberts on Sept. 6, 2016, temporarily blocked a congressional subpoena that seeks information on how the classified advertising website Backpage.com screens ads for possible sex trafficking. The order came hours after Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer asked the high court to intervene, saying the case threatens the First Amendment rights of online publishers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 21, 2014 file photo, people opposed to child sex trafficking rally outside of the Washington state Supreme Court in Olympia, Wash. The Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in favor of three young girls who sued Backpage.com, claiming they were sold as prostitutes on the site. Thursday's ruling says the Communications Decency Act does not protect Backpage from state lawsuits because there's enough evidence to show that it didn't just host the ads, but helped develop the content. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte, File)
People gather around a television in the lobby of the Washington state Supreme Court to watch oral arguments in a case against Backpage.com, on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014, in Olympia, Wash. The court heard a case filed by three sex trafficking victims who say the website helps promote the exploitation of children. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Washington state assistant attorney general Jonathan Mark walks past a display of a Backpage.com ad following a news conference about action being taken against the adult services site Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011, in Seattle. Attorneys general in 45 states are asking the classified ads website to explain how it handles postings for adult services. The officials said in a letter to Backpage.com on Wednesday that hundreds of ads on the site are for prostitution, and the site attracts people seeking to exploit minors. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Thomas Dart, sheriff of Cook County, Ill., looks at computer screen in an office at his Chicago headquarters on Thursday, July 23, 2015. For years, Dart has been taking aim at Backpage.com, a classified ad website with an adult services section that has been shown in court to be used by sex traffickers - some who've sold minors for sex. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Backpage, the second-largest U.S. online classified ad service after Craigslist, has faced scrutiny from the U.S. Senate as well as civil lawsuits over allegations that the site facilitates sex trafficking, especially of children.
Kristin Ford, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, said Ferrer would appear in a Texas court for an extradition hearing unless he waives it.
Attorneys for Backpage.com could not immediately be reached for comment.
Harris also announced a criminal charge on Thursday against the controlling shareholders of Backpage.com, Michael Lacey and James Larkin. Ford said warrants have been issued for Lacey and Larkin but they are not in custody.
The California AG office said it had conducted a three-year investigation, including undercover operations posting escort ads.
The Senate voted 96-0 earlier this year to hold Backpage in civil contempt after it did not comply with a subpoena to hand over documents explaining how it combats sex trafficking in ads on the adult section of its website.
One civil lawsuit against Backpage was filed in 2012 in Washington State by three young teenagers who alleged they were raped multiple times after being advertised on the site. The girls, the oldest of whom was 15, sued Backpage for claims including sexual exploitation of children, alleging its posting rules were intended to instruct pimps how to post trafficking ads that evade law enforcement.
Backpage argued its rules are meant to prevent unlawful posts and invoked the federal Communications Decency Act, asserting they are not responsible for the ads because they were third-party content. Some free speech advocates filed briefs in support of its position.
The Washington state Supreme Court disagreed, ruling last year that the lawsuit could go forward.
Earlier this year, however, a similar trafficking case involving children against Backpage in Massachusetts was dismissed by a federal appeals court, which said the free speech principles embodied in the Communications Decency Act were paramount.