Polk County Sheriff Threatens to Arrest Backpage.com Operators

Rhett Pardon

TAMPA, Fla. — Sheriff Grady Judd, the hard-nosed law enforcement official who declared war on the production and distribution of porn in Florida's Polk County several years ago, has another focus these days — Backpage.com.

Judd said yesterday that he's putting Backpage executives officially on notice.

"It's a promise. Backpage, you are going to be criminally investigated. So are the people in charge of your organization," Judd said. "Backpage is driving proceeds from prostitution. Backpage is facilitating prostitution."

Judd made the comments after deputies arrested 92 suspects by posting or answering ads for sex on Backpage.com. The long-time county sheriff noted that johns and prostitutes hook up under the adult section using their own code words.

"They are good at saying, '200 roses for an hour.' Let me figure this out. Is that red roses or yellow roses? I guess that depends if you are in love or in heat," he said.

Several years ago, Craigslist.com faced similar criticism from law enforcement officials nationwide until the site dropped its adult services section in 2010. Many of the same individuals seeking or offering sex for money switched to Backpage.com.

Adult industry Lawrence Walters told XBIZ that the Constitution and federal laws protects operators like Backpage and Craigslist and that Judd appears misguided.

"What Sheriff Judd seems to overlook is that the First Amendment protects the rights of online advertising outlets to engage in commercial speech, and that they are not automatically responsible for illegal acts of their advertisers," Walters said. "In addition, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides statutory immunity to online service providers like Backpage.com. Other Sheriff's have learned that lesson the hard way when they tried this same kind of intimidation tactic against Craigslist.com."

While Backpage.com is in the hot seat with Judd now, the county sheriff still has his eye on the production and distribution of porn.

Last week, Polk County Sheriff's deputies arrested a Dundee, Fla., store owner after undercover detectives purchased 10 porn videos from her.

Minakashiben Patel was charged with the wholesale promotion of obscene material and 10 counts each of distribution of obscenity and possession of obscenity with intent to sell.

Prior to Patel, the last obscenity arrest in Polk County involved adult star Kimberly Kupps.

Kupps was charged with 13 felonies for violating the distribution  and sale of obscene material and one for the wholesale promotion of obscene material for content on her namesake site, KimberlyKupps.com. Her husband also was charged with the same counts.

She and her husband both agreed to a plea deal over obscenity charges in February 2012, adjudicating the pair guilty of a single misdemeanor offense and imposing a fine of $325. Walters was their attorney.

After Kupps was arrested, Judd declared war on the production and distribution of porn in his county.

“We want a wholesome community here, we don’t want smut peddlers,” Judd said at the time, “and if they try to peddle their smut from Polk County or into Polk County we’ll be on them like a cheap suit.”

Backpage.com officials did not immediately respond for XBIZ comment.