WASHINGTON — Senators investigating sex trafficking blasted the CEO of Backpage.com for failing to show up at a hearing this week despite being subject to a subpoena.
U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also are considering Justice Department to examine the case for a possible charge of criminal contempt of Congress.
Portman said the committee called Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer to testify about the site’s adult services advertising pages.
But Ferrer’s attorneys told the committee the day before the hearing that he would be out of the country and that were he to testify he would likely invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
At the hearing, a representative from the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children (NCEMC), testified that 71 percent of child sex trafficking reports submitted to its tipline relate to Backpage.com. The rep cited several Backpage.com business practices inconsistent with the center's standards.
Portman said it “may justify a referral to the Department of Justice for criminal contempt” and noted that Ferrer’s decision not to testify “a clear act of contempt.”
Just this week, a federal appeals court ordered the Cook County Sheriff’s Department to halt lobbying major credit card companies that do business with Backpage.com.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart was sued by Backpage in July after he successfully placed pressure on Visa and MasterCard to stop processing credit card transactions for Backpage. Dart said the the pressure was necessitated by “years of growth in the ... sex trade.”