Sex Work

Judge Acquits Backpage Co-Founder Michael Lacey on Most Counts

The court found insufficient evidence to sustain 53 of 84 remaining counts against Lacey.


A federal judge has acquitted Backpage co-founder Michael Lacey of dozens of counts, including a majority of those on which federal prosecutors planned to retry Lacey later this year. U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa also acquitted former Backpage executives Jed Brunst and Scott Spear on multiple counts of which they were convicted by a jury last fall.

"After viewing the record in the light most favorable to the Government, the Court finds there is insufficient of evidence to support convictions under Counts 19–51 as to Mr. Lacey and Counts 66–99 as to Messrs. Lacey, Brunst, and Spear," concluded Humetewa.

In November, a jury found Lacey guilty of just one the 86 counts against him and not guilty of one count as well. The jury was hung on the other 84 counts, including all charges that Lacey actively facilitated prostitution or participated in a conspiracy to facilitate prostitution via the online classifieds site he founded with his longtime newspaper partner James Larkin. (Larkin took his own life last summer a few days before the trial was scheduled to begin.)

The feds then decided to retry Lacey on those 84 counts, despite the fact that there had already been two trials on the same charges. (The first, in 2021, was declared a mistrial after prosecutors and their witnesses couldn't stop talking about sex trafficking despite none of the defendants facing sex trafficking charges.)

Now, Humetewa has acquitted Lacey on 53 of the remaining 84 counts against him. Additionally, Humetewa acquitted Spear, former executive vice president of Backpage, of 10 of the counts on which he was found guilty by the jury and acquitted former Chief Financial Officer Brunst of 18 of the counts on which he was convicted.

Two of the other defendants were acquitted on all charges by the jury.

Lacey, Spear, and Brunst could still be in serious trouble.

Lacey is still looking at a retrial later this year on the remaining counts against him, which include one count of conspiracy to violate the federal Travel Act by facilitating prostitution, 17 counts of violating the Travel Act by facilitating prostitution, and several different money laundering counts.

And on June 17, Lacey is scheduled to be sentenced on the one count—international concealment of money laundering—on which the jury found him guilty. It comes with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. Lacey plans to appeal his conviction on this count, and there seems like a good chance it will be successful, since the money he allegedly "concealed" was reported to the federal government with all the proper paperwork. But he could still face prison time as that appeals process plays out.

Brunst is scheduled to be sentenced along with Lacey in June and even with Humetewa's acquittals, he still faces sentencing on 14 counts. And Spear, who is scheduled to be sentenced on July 9, still faces sentencing on 29 counts.