Former Backpage Executive Jim Larkin Dies Days Before Retrial

Former Backpage Executive Jim Larkin Dies Days Before Retrial

PHOENIX — Former Backpage.com executive James “Jim” Larkin, a co-defendant in the ongoing Backpage.com case due to be retried this month after a 2021 mistrial, died by suicide Monday in Superior, Arizona.

The 74-year-old Larkin died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Superior Police Department confirmed to the Arizona Republic.

As XBIZ has been reporting, Backpage was shuttered and seized by federal authorities in 2018, days before President Trump signed FOSTA into law. The government accused Larkin and the company’s other top executive, Mike Lacey of a number of crimes related to their ownership of the popular adult-oriented classifieds website. The case was subsequently used by several political figures, including Vice President Kamala Harris, as an example of the need for the FOSTA Section 230 exception.

Federal prosecutors accused the company of “participation in a conspiracy to facilitate and promote prostitution,” money laundering, human trafficking and other charges, which were strongly disputed by the defense.

In September 2021, Judge Susan Brnovich declared a mistrial after the government presented the testimony of a supposed “online sex trafficking expert” who had been prepared by prosecutors to repeat the words “children” and “trafficking” to influence the jurors.

As the attorneys for Lacey and Larkin pointed out at the time, there was no charge of “trafficking of children” in the Backpage case.

Judge Brnovich, who had consistently ruled against the defense, surprised the court by announcing her concerns that the government prosecutors had “crossed that line several times,” even after she admonished them not to do it.

In September 2022, a three-judge Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld a lower court’s denial to dismiss the case against the former owners of Backpage.com, after attorneys for Lacey and Larkin sought the dismissal due to double jeopardy.

According to Stephen Lemons, editor of the Lacey and Larkin-associated website Front Page Confidential and the leading authority on the case, the Ninth Circuit panel “conceded that the government committed ‘misconduct’ and ‘did elicit prejudicial evidence in violation of pretrial rulings,’ but the panel ruled that the misconduct ‘was not so egregious as to compel a finding of an intent’ to provoke a mistrial.”

The retrial was set to start Aug. 8 before Judge Diane Humetewa.

“We plan to win in court,” Lacey’s attorney Paul Cambria told XBIZ in September 2022.

A Long-Time Partnership

Lacey and Larkin worked closely together for decades developing the Phoenix alt-weekly New Times into a national chain, later devoting their attentions to the spin-off classifieds operation, Backpage.com.

While Lacey was responsible for the editorial direction of the companies, Larkin served as the “business mastermind,” the Arizona Republic explained.

Starting in 2010, anti-sex-work activists and law enforcement targeted Backpage.com, arguing that the site hosted “thinly disguised advertisements for prostitution,” the Republic wrote in Larkin’s obituary, which quoted a 2018 interview with Reason magazine in which Larkin said that Backpage was targeted “because of the journalism the New Times published.”

“We’ve never, ever broken the law,” Larkin insisted. “Never have, never wanted to.”

Larkin said his and Lacey’s fight against the forces trying to ruin them was not about sex work to him, but about free speech.

Lacey issued the following statement through Front Page Confidential about the passing of his long-time friend and business partner:

Jim Larkin’s passing has torn at my heart.

I knew him for over 40 years as we pursued stories across America, literally from sea to shining sea.

He began a newspaper in high school; journalism was quite literally in his blood.

He embraced the idea of full-time staff writers at Village Voice Media despite the expense. And those journalists went on to win over 3,800 writing awards including recognition in the Pulitzer competition.

Jim was a businessman, and he recognized and created a market for alternative newsweeklies. He cut trail where most perceived only risk.

Above all of his works, however, he was a family man. A loyal husband, he reveled in his six children.

I never saw my friend do a dishonest or dishonorable thing in his entire life.

I had a four-decade friendship with a wonderful man.

Now I have only his memory.

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