The Trump Department of Justice said Friday the federal government had shut down a major website for prostitution and sex trafficking and had indicted the website’s owner.
The website, CityXGuide.com, was a leading source of online advertisements for prostitution and sex trafficking and was launched in 2018 after Backpage.com – which also advertised prostitution and sex trafficking – was shut down by the feds.
CityXGuide.com users described the website as “taking over from where Backpage left off,” the Justice Department said.
Visitors to CityXGuide.com now see a message saying, “CityXGuide.com and affiliated websites have been seized by the Department of Homeland Security.” The website also includes emblems from the Justice Department, Homeland Security, Secret Service and the police department of Colleyville, Texas.
Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, announced a 28-charge indictment against Wilhan Martono, 46, the website’s owner. Among the charges was one count of promotion of prostitution and reckless disregard of sex trafficking, one count of interstate racketeering conspiracy (facilitating prostitution), nine counts of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering (facilitating prostitution), and 17 counts of money laundering, according to the Justice Department.
Martono allegedly made $21 million off the website. He also allegedly tried concealing the online activity by routing traffic through a European IP address.
“As soon as DOJ shut down one despicable site, another popped up to take its place,” Cox said. “Like the owners of Backpage, this defendant made millions facilitating the online exploitation of women and children. The Justice Department will not rest until these sites are eliminated and their owners held accountable for their crimes.”
CityXGuide and its companion websites allegedly let advertisers “select from a pre-populated list of ‘intimate activities,’ then add nude photographs, descriptions, work hours, methods of payment, and contact information” for the women being advertised, the Justice Department said. One victim was a 13-year-old female teen.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation thanked the federal departments for acting.
“All websites facilitating sex trafficking must be vigorously prosecuted and we commend Attorney General William Barr and the U.S. Attorney in Northern Texas, Erin Nealy Cox, for prosecuting Martono and seizing CityXGuide,” said Patrick A. Trueman, president and CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
Martono was charged in part under a new law, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA), that gives law enforcement more tools to go after websites that promote sex trafficking. President Trump signed it into law in 2018.
Photo courtesy: Glenn Carstens Peters/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.