PHOENIX — The controversial classified-ad website Backpage.com was no longer operating Friday — just hours after FBI officials raided the home of the website's co-founder.
FBI officials here confirmed "law-enforcement activity" Friday morning at the Sedona-area home of Michael Lacey, a co-founder of Backpage.com.
Then, hours later, a message was posted to the website, apparently from the federal Justice Department, that notified users the federal government was shutting it down.
"Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized," the headline of the notice read on the Canadian version of Backpage.
The notice said the seizure was "part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, with analytical assistance from the Joint Regional Intelligence Center."
Phoenix FBI spokesman Glenn Milnor referred all other questions to the Justice Department. A Justice official told The Arizona Republic that the department would release more information shortly.
As of 1 p.m. MST, the notice was no longer present on the United States version of Backpage.com though an error message appeared after clicking into any one of the site's various categories.
The message remained on the Canadian version of the website.
Backpage started as the literal back page of the New Times, filled with classified ads.
Lacey and Jim Larkin, former New Times executives who sold off the newspaper chain in 2012, retained the lucrative financial interest in the Backpage website.
The site became dominated with adult-oriented advertising that police, prosecutors and advocates said were thinly veiled solicitations for prostitution. The adult ads were among the few the website charged users to post.
A Senate report released in January 2017 contained internal emails from the company that showed its operators edited ads and created a list of disallowed terms that seemed indicative of prostitution. The Senate report concluded that such actions showed Backpage knew its website was used to facilitate prostitution.
Backpage shuttered its adult section the day the report was released, just as Lacey and Larkin appeared under subpoena to testify before the Senate committee. Both men refused to answer questions.
Advocates and prosecutors have alleged that Backpage was used to sell underage girls and that women sold through the ads were coerced into prostitution, elevating the crime from prostitution to the federal crime of sex trafficking.