The U.S. Department of Justice has shut down a major website for prostitution and sex trafficking and has indicted the owner.
CityXGuide.com was a leading source of online advertisements for prostitution and sex trafficking which served clients across the nation, including a list of 14 “Favorite Cities” such as Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, and Boston. Law enforcement has identified numerous underage victims in CityXGuide advertisements, including a 13-year-old female who was recovered in November 2019.
The Justice Department announced a 28-charge indictment against Wilhan Martono, 46, the website’s owner. Among the charges are 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. Martono allegedly made $21 million off the website and tried concealing the online activity by routing traffic through a European IP address. He was arrested on June 17 in Fremont, California by Homeland Security Investigations and the United States Secret Service. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in federal prison.
Martono was charged in part under a new law, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA), that targets online sex trafficking and subjects websites to federal criminal and civil liability when users facilitate prostitution. President Trump signed the law in 2018.
CityXGuide.com was launched in 2018 right after Backpage.com, the top online human trafficking site, was seized by the federal government two weeks after the U.S. House and Senate passed FOSTA. Since then, several other websites built solely around prostitution and sex trafficking have been taken down, such as Cityvibe, and mainstream websites like Craigslist and Reddit have removed their “Hookers” and “Personals” sections which hosted sex trafficking and prostitution advertisements.
Human trafficking is the fastest-growing organized crime activity in the United States, profiting almost $32 billion a year for traffickers while destroying the lives of tens of thousands of innocent children. The Justice Department estimates that each year at least 200,000 children are trafficked for sex in the U.S., and 70 percent of the survivors said they were advertised online at some point while they were being trafficked. In these scenarios, pimps and traffickers, or in some cases the victims themselves, post photos and write classified advertisements on escort sites for buyers to browse. These ads often represent children from 12-17 years old.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “We applaud the Department of Justice for continuing to protect and rescue children and adults from being victims of human sex trafficking. Shutting down another major prostitution website and indicting its owner is a victory for sex trafficking victims and law enforcement. Human trafficking is a heinous crime and a very damaging exploitation of people who are made in the image of God.”