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Paul, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Oakdale and Cottage Grove — worked on the case.

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The extraordinary move came shortly after the release of a scathing U. Senate report that accused Backpage of hiding criminal activity by deleting terms from ads that indicated sex trafficking or prostitution, including of children.

The abrupt closure came on the eve of the scheduled testimony of Backpage’s founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, and the site’s CEO, Carl Ferrer, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ subcommittee on investigations.

According to the report, the moderator testified under oath: “[M]y responsibility was to make the ads OK to run live on the site, because having to get rid of the ad altogether was bad for business.”It was common knowledge at the company that ads in the adult section were for prostitution, one moderator said, adding that a co-worker used the site to procure prostitutes, according to the report. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire Mc Caskill (D-Mo.), who led the bipartisan Senate investigation into the website, said Backpage’s move to shutter its adult ads attested to the damning evidence their team uncovered.“We reported the evidence that Backpage has been far more complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone previously knew,” they said in a statement.“Backpage’s response wasn’t to deny what we said. That’s not 'censorship' — it’s validation of our findings.”By late Monday, visitors to Backpage saw “censored” tags in red font under the adult section’s menu of escorts, body rubs and strippers.

Other sections remained operative, including for cars, real estate and childcare.

Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night, a Van Nuys-based nonprofit that rescues children from sex work, credited Backpage with helping detectives locate missing or exploited children and ultimately prosecute pimps.

She lamented the end of the site as a “critical investigative tool.”“It's a sad day for America's children victimized by prostitution,” Lee said in a statement.

Online, Backpage published full statements from the company as well as supporters who view government efforts to shutter the website as unlawful attempts to stifle free speech.“Like the decision by Craigslist to remove its adult category in 2010, this announcement is the culmination of years of effort by government at various levels to exert pressure on and to make it too costly to continue,” Backpage said.

The website also said that the end of its adult ads section would do little to end human trafficking.

The men said they intend to sue Harris, who has since been elected to the Senate, for bringing the case despite knowing it “had no basis in law.”Lacey and Larkin — the former owners of alternative weekly newspapers such as Phoenix New Times and the Village Voice — also said they sold their ownership interest in Backpage two years ago, contradicting the Senate report.

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