Sex ads website Backpage.com seized by US authorities

WASHINGTON, April 6 (Reuters) - U.S. law enforcement agencies have seized the sex marketplace website Backpage.com as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a posting on the Backpage website on Friday.

A Phoenix FBI official said that there was "law enforcement activity" on Friday at the Sedona, Arizona home of Michael Lacey, one of the founders of Backpage.

Glenn Milnor, FBI Special Agent and Media Coordinator, referred further inquiries to the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice will provide more information at 6 p.m. EDT, according to the website posting, which said U.S. attorneys in Arizona and California, as well as the Justice Department's section on child exploitation and obscenity and the California and Texas attorneys general had supported shutting down the website.

(Photo: Reuters)

Lawmakers and enforcement officials have been working to crack down on the site, which is used primarily to sell sex and is the second largest classified ad service in the country after Craigslist.

Backpage and advocacy groups have argued that the ads are free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Senate passed legislation last month making it easier for state prosecutors and sex-trafficking victims to sue social media networks, advertisers and others that fail to keep sex trafficking and other exploitative materials off their platforms.

Launched in 2004, Backpage has affiliates across the country and around the world, and by 2014 brought in annual revenue of $135 million, the New York Times has reported.

22 PHOTOS
Human and sex trafficking issues around the world
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Human and sex trafficking issues around the world
A journalist takes photo of 24 alleged human traffickers' pictures displayed on a board, released by Italian police during a press conference in Palermo on April 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MARCELLO PATERNOSTRO (Photo credit should read MARCELLO PATERNOSTRO/AFP/Getty Images)
SHAMLAPUR, BANGLADESH - JULY 4: A photograph of Rohingya trafficking victim Mohammad Aiaz is seen July 4, 2015 in Shamlapur, Bangladesh. On March 5, 2015 Aiaz met a man who promised to take him to a good job in Malaysia for free. He left Bangladesh with 13 other Rohingya. A few days after that his mother, Lila Begum, got a phone call from her son saying he was on the ship and that she needed to pay a man in Teknaf 200,000 taka ($2,570) or he would be killed. She managed to pay 175,000 but she has not heard from her son since. In the past months thousands of Rohingya have landed on the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, many of them by way of Bangladesh. The Rohingya pay up to $2,000 to traffickers, and they sail out from Bangladesh's southern coastline on fishing boats to meet larger ships in the deep sea that will take them to Malaysia. UNHCR estimates that there are more than 300,000 Rohingya living in Bangladesh. (Photo by Shazia Rahman/Getty Images)
An armed Malaysian policeman checks a driver's documentations a day after the government announced the discovery of camps and graves, the first such sites found in Malaysia since a regional human-trafficking crisis erupted earlier this month, near Malaysia-Thailand borders in Wang Kelian on May 25, 2015. A total of 139 grave sites and 28 human-trafficking camps have been found in a remote northern Malaysian border region, the country's top police official told reporters. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Sex workers and sympathizers demonstrate on April 9, 2015 against the closure of window brothels by the municipality in the red light district in Amsterdam. With Project 1012, the Amsterdam wants to close window prostitution to prevent crime, human trafficking and degradation. AFP PHOTO / ANP / ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN - netherlands out - (Photo credit should read ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Ivanka Trump speaks during a meeting on action to end modern slavery and human trafficking on the sidelines of the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
ATHENS, ATTIKI, GREECE - 2017/10/14: Greek human right activists take part in the 2017 Walk for Freedom event raising awareness about Human Trafficking. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
ATHENS, ATTIKI, GREECE - 2017/10/14: Greek human right activists take part in the 2017 Walk for Freedom event raising awareness about Human Trafficking. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Human trafficking suspect Patchuban Angchotipan, a former official in the provincial government of the southern province of Satun, arrives at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, November 10, 2015. Eighty-eight human trafficking suspects arrested as part of a crackdown on Thailand's lucrative smuggling and trafficking syndicates were brought before a Bangkok court on Tuesday to start examination of evidence and witnesses ahead of a trial. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Lieutenant-General Manas Kongpan, a suspected human trafficker, is escorted by officers as he arrives for a hearing at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
Timothy Patrick Deegan, who has been charged with human trafficking after being accused of keeping three women as sex slaves in Gainesville, Florida, is seen in an undated photo released by the Alachua County Sheriff's Office in Gainesville, Florida. Deegan, 53, a Florida certified public accountant, remained behind bars on June 12, 2014, on a $300,000 bond following his arrest on June 6, 2014. REUTERS/Alachua County Sheriff's Office/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW HEADSHOT) ATTENTION EDITORS ? THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson talks about sex traffickers in Iowa and Nebraska during a human trafficking seminar, where opponents of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline expressed concerns that "man camps" created during construction of the pipeline might bring the sex trade to their area in O'Neill, Nebraska, U.S. April 12, 2017. Picture taken April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lane Hickenbottom
Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer, center, and controlling shareholders James Larkin, left, and Michael Lacey, right, listen to Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown during a hearing on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in Sacramento Superior Court. (Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/TNS via Getty Images)
Japanese national Susumu Fukui (2nd R) is escorted by Cambodian police to the Phnom Penh municipal court in Phnom Penh on February 7, 2017. Fukui, a Japanese restaurant owner accused of overseeing a smuggling ring that forced women into sex work in Japan, was charged with trafficking in Cambodia on February 7, along with his wife and an employee. / AFP / TANG CHHIN Sothy (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)
TANGERANG, INDONESIA - AUGUST 16: Suspects of human trafficking arrive at Soekarno-Hatta Airport on August 16, 2016 in Tangerang, Indonesia. 9 Suspects while smuggling 16 people from the sea port promontory hall, North Sumatra province to Malaysia got raided and arrested by police. An estimated 6 million Indonesian laborers (70% of whom are female) work abroad. Many Indonesian workers who have migrated to the Middle East and Asia have been subjected to exploitation. According to the 2013 US Trafficking In Persons Report, Indonesia is a major source country for women, children, and men who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.' PHOTOGRAPH BY Jefta Images / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftmedia.comA (Photo credit should read Jefta Images / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
TANGERANG, INDONESIA - AUGUST 16: Suspects of human trafficking arrive at Soekarno-Hatta Airport on August 16, 2016 in Tangerang, Indonesia. 9 Suspects while smuggling 16 people from the sea port promontory hall, North Sumatra province to Malaysia got raided and arrested by police. An estimated 6 million Indonesian laborers (70% of whom are female) work abroad. Many Indonesian workers who have migrated to the Middle East and Asia have been subjected to exploitation. According to the 2013 US Trafficking In Persons Report, Indonesia is a major source country for women, children, and men who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.' PHOTOGRAPH BY Jefta Images / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftmedia.comA (Photo credit should read Jefta Images / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
MEWAT, INDIA - MARCH 13: Ghausia Khan a bride trafficking survivor, is a member of the district legal aid authority, Mewat is showing the images of enlisted Paros on March 13, 2014 in Mewat, India. Khan a worker with Empower People, an NGO which deals with trafficking cases and helps women in distress to find lawyers and provides them with legal information and at times, monetary assistance. Trafficked brides are locally known as Paro or Molki (means one who has a price). These are pejorative labels in Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh where the skewed sex ratio and entrenched feudalism has resulted in a flourishing trade in women trafficked from the poverty-ridden villages of Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha. The women, who are usually promised marriage, find themselves in places like Mewat where the go-betweens sell them sometimes repeatedly to men who cannot find local women. Cut off from their native states, they are often confined and forced to work as bonded labour or pushed into forced marriages or prostitution. (Photo by Subrata Biswas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
MEWAT, INDIA - MARCH 13: Ghausia Khan a bride trafficking survivor, is a member of the district legal aid authority, Mewat is showing the images of enlisted Paros on March 13, 2014 in Mewat, India. Khan a worker with Empower People, an NGO which deals with trafficking cases and helps women in distress to find lawyers and provides them with legal information and at times, monetary assistance. Trafficked brides are locally known as Paro or Molki (means one who has a price). These are pejorative labels in Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh where the skewed sex ratio and entrenched feudalism has resulted in a flourishing trade in women trafficked from the poverty-ridden villages of Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha. The women, who are usually promised marriage, find themselves in places like Mewat where the go-betweens sell them sometimes repeatedly to men who cannot find local women. Cut off from their native states, they are often confined and forced to work as bonded labour or pushed into forced marriages or prostitution. (Photo by Subrata Biswas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
A court order is seen hanging with red wax on the main door of the closed Oragon/Sideway club which was used by sex traffickers as a brothel in the area of Zouk Mkayel, north of Beirut on April, 14, 2016. Lebanese security forces busted a sex trafficking ring involving 75 Syrian women trafficked to Lebanon from their country and forced into prostitution. / AFP / JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows the three-story Chez Maurice Hotel, which was used by sex traffickers as a brothel, in the Maameltein district of the coastal town of Jounieh, north of Beirut on April, 14, 2016. Lebanese security forces busted a sex trafficking ring involving 75 Syrian women trafficked to Lebanon from their country and forced into prostitution. / AFP / JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian sex trafficking victim is seen making coffee in the kitchen of her safehouse at an undisclosed location in Lebanon on April 13, 2016, after she fled a brothel in Lebanon where she was being held captive. Lebanese security forces busted a sex trafficking ring involving 75 Syrian women trafficked to Lebanon from their country and forced into prostitution. / AFP / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Belle Plaine, Minnesota. Billboard showing the effects of sex slavery in the United States. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 13: FBI officials announced that 20 underage victims were recovered and 7 pimps arrested in Colorado and Wyoming as part of a national Operation Cross CountryIX. At the Denver FBI headquarters on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler (second from left) cranes around to see the video display of sex traffickers and their recent sentences. Left to right: Dawn Weber Second Judicial District Chief Deputy District Attorney in charge of Cold Case Unit & Human Trafficking Unit Brauchler , and 18th Judicial District Deputy District Attorney Cara Morlan. (Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images )
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The Supreme Court in January 2017 refused to consider reviving a lawsuit against Backpage.com filed by three young women alleging the site facilitated their forced prostitution. But the site has since then faced a slew of other lawsuits alleging child sex trafficking.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has told Congress that nearly three quarters of the cases submitted to the center relate to ads posted on the site. The state of California has said that 90 percent of the site's income were attributable to "adult ads."

At the end of 2016, Texas and California attorneys general raided the company's Dallas headquarters and arrested chief executive Carl Ferrer and other former company executives on pimping-related charges. But the judge in the case ruled that the site was protected by the First Amendment, and the site should not be liable for the speech of third parties.

The states' attorney generals did not immediately comment on Friday's seizure.

25 PHOTOS
Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) vice squad
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Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) vice squad
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 31: Vice squad officers with the Los Angeles Police Department draw their pistols on 4 people in a car January 31, 2013 before they're searched, arrested and brought to South Central's 77th Street Division station on charges of prostitution in Los Angeles, California. While the charge of soliciting, supervising or loitering with the intent to commit prostitution is a misdemeanor, the four will be held for 2-4 days until they're formally charged. In South Central Los Angeles, prostitution is rampant and often controlled by pimps who are former Bloods or Crips gang members. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 16: Officers of the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad arrest a woman May 16, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The woman was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for the purpose of prostitution, a misdemeanor charge. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 18: Officer Valerie Lancaster, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad, records the personal possessions of 13 women arrested earlier in the day at the South East division's police headquarters May 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. The women were arrested for soliciting undercover police officers for the purpose of prostitution. The thirteen women were arrested in 30-minutes starting at 5:35am along Figueroa Street, a renowned thoroughfare for prostitution. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 18: Officer Valerie Lancaster, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad, records the personal possessions of 13 women arrested earlier in the day at the South East division's police headquarters May 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. The women were arrested for soliciting undercover police officers for the purpose of prostitution, a misdemeanor charge. The thirteen women were arrested in 30-minutes starting at 5:35am along Figueroa Street, a renowned thoroughfare for prostitution. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 18: Officer Marcos Mercado, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad speaks into his radio after the arrest of three women May 18, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The women were arrested for soliciting undercover police officers for the purpose of prostitution. Thirteen women were arrested in 30-minutes starting at 5:35am along Figueroa Street, a renowned thoroughfare for prostitution. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 18: Police officers with the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad count the cash found with the 13 women arrested earlier in the day at the South East division's police headquarters May 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. The women, seen behind, were arrested for soliciting undercover police officers for the purpose of prostitution, a misdemeanor charge. The cash will be returned to the women once they're released. The thirteen women were arrested in 30-minutes starting at 5:35am along Figueroa Street, a renowned thoroughfare for prostitution. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 16: Officer Valerie Lancaster, right, from the Los Angeles Police Department's Vice Squad arrests a woman May 16, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The woman was arrested for soliciting a plain clothes officer for the purposes of prostitution, a misdemeanor charge. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 17: Police officer Marcos Mercado, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad, watches over an arrest being made of a woman May 17, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The woman was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for the purpose of prostitution. In a gang infested neighborhood, police observe their colleagues during an arrest process for who is watching them as a form of counter-surveillance and protection. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 17: O A warning sign is attached fro a door of a motel along Figueroa Street where the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad often arrest prostitutes and their clients May 17, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. This area of Figueroa Street is a main thoroughfare for prostitutes. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 16: Officer Valerie Lancaster from the Los Angeles Police Department's Vice Squad arrests a woman May 16, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The woman was arrested for soliciting a plain clothes officer for the purposes of prostitution, a misdemeanor charge. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 17: Police officer Marcos Mercado, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad, runs after two women at a train station who solicited a police officer for sex May 17, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The women managed to escape onto a departing train. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 18: Officer Valerie Lancaster, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad, records the personal possessions of 13 women arrested earlier in the day at the South East division's police headquarters May 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. The women, seen behind, were arrested for soliciting undercover police officers for the purpose of prostitution, a misdemeanor charge. The thirteen women were arrested in 30-minutes starting at 5:35am along Figueroa Street, a renowned thoroughfare for prostitution. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 17: An officer of the Los Angeles Police Department fingerprints a 17-year old woman following her arrest May 17, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The underage woman was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for the purpose of prostitution. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 17: Police officer Marcos Mercado, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad, runs after two women at a train station who solicited a police officer for sex May 17, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The women managed to escape onto a departing train. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 16: Officers of the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad arrest a woman May 16, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The woman was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for the purpose of prostitution, a misdemeanor charge. Her left arm is tattooed with a crown signifying her pimp's ownership and a letter representing her pimp's initial. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 17: An officer of the Los Angeles Police Department fingerprints a 17-year old woman following her arrest May 17, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The under-age woman was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for the purpose of prostitution, a misdemeanor charge. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 18: Officers of the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad prepare thirteen women for transportation after being arrested for prostitution May 18, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The women were arrested for soliciting undercover police officers for the purpose of prostitution. All thirteen women were arrested in 30-minutes starting at 5:35am along Figueroa Street, a renowned thoroughfare for prostitution. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 2: A pair of hand-cuffs hangs on a holding room door February 2, 2013 used by the Los Angeles Police Department's South Central's 77th Street Division station in Los Angeles, California. Each night the holding rooms are filled with suspects picked up by the division's vice squad and charged with prostitution. In South Central Los Angeles, prostitution flourishes and is often controlled by pimps who are former Bloods or Crips gang members. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 2: A 17-year old girl in hand-cuffs is questioned February 2, 2013 by a vice squad policeman, Sergeant Brian Gallagher, with the Los Angeles Police Department's South Central's 77th Street Division about committing prostitution in Los Angeles, California. While the charge of soliciting or loitering with the intent to commit prostitution is a misdemeanor, the girl will be held for 2-4 days. As a minor, the girl was formally charged with loitering with the intent to engage in acts of prostitution. The majority of juveniles arrested for prostitution in Los Angeles county come from the city's foster care program. In 2010, police in Los Angeles arrested 174 juveniles for prostitution. In South Central Los Angeles, prostitution flourishes and is often controlled by pimps who are former Bloods or Crips gang members. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 16: Officer Valerie Lancaster, left, from the Los Angeles Police Department's Vice Squad arrests a woman May 16, 2017 in the southeast area of Los Angeles, California. The woman was arrested for soliciting a plain clothes officer for the purposes of prostitution, a misdemeanor charge. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY A vice squad officer with the Los Angeles Police Department checks the contents of a car driven by a man suspected of being a pimp or a potential client January 31, 2013 after he was seen associating with a prostitute in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 1: Women who are about to be charged with prostitution by vice squad officers of the Los Angeles Police Department February 1, 2013 wait in a holding cell at the South Central's 77th Street Division station in Los Angeles, California. While the charge of soliciting or loitering with the intent to commit prostitution is a misdemeanor, the women will be held for 2-4 days until they're formally charged. In South Central Los Angeles, prostitution is rampant and often controlled by pimps who are former Bloods or Crips gang members. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 1: A woman under arrest has her hand-cuffs removed in a holding cell February 1, 2013 by vice squad officer with the Los Angeles Police Department's South Central's 77th Street Division station on a charge of prostitution in Los Angeles, California. While the charge of soliciting or loitering with the intent to commit prostitution is a misdemeanor, the woman will be held for 2-4 days until she's formally charged. In South Central Los Angeles, prostitution is rampant and often controlled by pimps who are former Bloods or Crips gang members. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 31: Vice squad officers with the Los Angeles Police Department take information from a hand-cuffed man, 2nd left, January 31, 2013 and two women, center and right, before they are brought to South Central's 77th Street Division station on related charges of prostitution in Los Angeles, California. While the charge of soliciting or loitering with the intent to commit prostitution is a misdemeanor, the suspects will be held for 2-4 days until they're formally charged. In South Central Los Angeles, prostitution is rampant and often controlled by pimps who are former Bloods or Crips gang members. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
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(Reporting by Sarah Lynch and Lisa Lambert, Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix, Editing by Toni Reinhold and Rosalba O'Brien)

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