Backpage Sting Operations

Backpage[dot]com was seized by U.S. authorities in April of 2018. Since backpage.com was shut down, a number of alternative classified ad sites for escorts quickly popped up including:

  • Bedpage
  • Domestic Sale
  • Ebackpage
  • Finder Master
  • Free Ads Time
  • Geebo
  • Hoobly
  • Yes Backpage
  • Wall Classifieds

Law enforcement officers have recently started using these alternative sites to conduct sting operations.

Currently, law enforcement officers in Florida seem to be focusing most of their efforts on Bedpage stings.

Although only a small percentage of people get caught up in a sting operation, arrests are becoming more common in many counties across Florida, including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Polk County.

Unfortunately, sting operations are not very good at targeting the real causes of human trafficking, which is a serious problem.

Instead, the most inexperienced participants get caught up in the stings.

Some sting operations even entrap participants by encouraging them to commit a crime they were not predisposed to commit. If your attorney can raise a reasonable doubt about whether you were entrapped, then the entire case might be thrown out.

Attorneys for Prostitution Sting Operations in Florida

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm represent men and women entrapped in a sting operation targeting prostitution and solicitation.

Before Backpage.com was shut down in April of 2018, many of these sting operations involved ads posted on that website.

Now law enforcement officers focus on Bedpage stings and other Backpage or Craigslist replacements.

The number of old-fashioned john stings has also increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

No matter the circumstances, our attorneys understand how to assert legal defenses in these cases.

By fighting the case aggressively, your criminal defense attorney might be able to convince the prosecutor to reduce the charge to “disorderly conduct” or even drop the accusation entirely.

Your attorney can also file a motion to suppress evidence taken after a warrantless arrest when the arresting officer did not have probable cause that all elements of the crime occurred in the officer’s presence.

Florida law requires that the officer must have witnessed all elements of the offense before the arrest is legal.

In other cases, a motion to dismiss can be filed when the undisputed facts show that the prosecutor’s evidence is insufficient.

This is especially true when no contract for “sex for money” was actually formed between the person arrested and the undercover officer.

When the criminal defense attorney files pre-trial motions and thoroughly prepares the case for trial, the prosecutor often becomes more motivated to make a better pre-trial offer.

If you avoid a conviction, we can help you seal or expunge the record quickly. Contact the attorneys at Sammis Law Firm to discuss your case today.

Call 813-250-0500.


Why is Prostitution Illegal in Florida?

If having sex between two consenting adults isn’t illegal, why is paying for sex a crime?

The short answer is that local law enforcement officers know that a conviction of the john comes with a $5,000 penalty in addition to other fines, court costs, cost of supervision, cost of prosecution, cost of investigation, and cost of supervision.

If the vehicle is towed from the scene, towing and storage fees are imposed. In some jurisdictions, the county or city also imposed a civil penalty of $500 to get the vehicle back after a prostitution arrest.

Sting operations on Bedpage-type sites are a quick and easy way to discourage the conduct instead of doing the actual police work necessary to catch real criminals.

The real criminals engaged in human trafficking are rarely caught in these sting operations that entrap the less sophisticated or novice user of escort services.


History of Backpage Stings Targeting Johns and Sex Workers

To understand how sting operations are currently being conducted, it is important to look at the history of Backpage. The vast majority of ads on the Backpage website were for escort-type services.

Because of its popularity across the county, law enforcement officers found it the perfect way to set up prostitution sting operations to target johns and prostitutes.

People went to great lengths to avoid getting caught in a Backpage sting operation. If you used Backpage, you were more likely to get busted for solicitation in counties where these sting operations are common. Law enforcement officers know this.

For the Backpage Sting Operations in Polk County, the undercover operations were set up at a house in a neighborhood on the northern edge of Polk County in Davenport, FL.

The undercover house used in the sting operation was just 1,000 feet south of the Osceola County line, just off the I-4 Interstate.

The ads for prostitutes in these sting operations target tourists in greater Orlando and lure them just across the county line into Polk County, FL.

The problem with these sting operations is that they tend to target people with the least experience with soliciting a prostitute.

A person with little experience cannot tell they are being set up by the police when they respond to a Backpage ad for an escort. The less experience the “John” has, the more likely he doesn’t know that person in the ad is a cop.

Likewise, people inexperienced in posting Backpage ads for escort services have difficulty telling if a “john” is a cop.

Sex workers experienced in posting and responding to such ads can tell when the person calling is part of a sting operation.

Professional sex workers are very good at running counterintelligence to determine when the police are involved. The ads posted by the police are very different from the other ads because they usually don’t use naked pictures or overt language.

Additionally, several escort review websites have popped up that allow the john to determine whether the professional sex worker is legitimate.

By allowing a john to leave a review, the review websites also provide a way for the escort to confirm whether the john is legitimate. Of course, now the police are setting up fake reviews and using the escort review sites to gain more information about their targets.

For this reason, sting operations are extremely ineffective in targeting anyone involved in human trafficking.

To achieve the highest number of arrests, the operations target sex between consenting adults and stay away from strings involving children, resulting in a much lower number of arrests (although for much more serious crimes).


Are John Sting Operations Racist or Discriminatory?

The Backpage-type Sting Operations are criticized as being racist or discriminatory because they target people based on national origin or sexual orientation.

For example, the officers in these sting operations create racial disparity by using Spanish-speaking Hispanic undercover officers. The sting operations also heavily target transgender (male to female) escorts when responding to ads.

Recent studies show that sting operations tend to be set up in minority neighborhoods even when you adjust for other socio-economic factors.

A motion to dismiss on due process grounds should be considered when a person is targeted in this manner. When the pre-trial motions do not resolve the case, the attorney can take the case to trial to ask the jury to return a “not guilty” verdict.


Cops Violated the “Terms of Use” on Backpage

Anyone who used the Backpage website was required to agree to the terms of use expressly. But in these sting operations, law enforcement officers ALWAYS violated the “terms of use” by claiming the ads do not involve prostitution and then saying the opposite after the arrest.

The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Sammis Law Firm filed motions showing that by violating the “terms of use” the officers violated the substantive due process rights of the person arrested.

Consider the fact that the terms of use require the user to agree to the following expressly:

  1. Use of the Site, including all access, services and/or features, is governed by these Terms of Use and the Privacy Policy.
  2. By using the Site in any way, you agree to comply with these Terms.
  3. Without limitation, you agree to refrain from the following actions while using the Site:
    • Harassing, threatening, embarrassing or causing distress or discomfort upon another individual or entity or impersonating any other person or entity or otherwise restricting or inhibiting any other person from using or enjoying the Site;
    • Transmitting any information, data, text, files, links, software, chats, communication or other materials that is unlawful, false, misleading, harmful, threatening, abusive, invasive of another’s privacy, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, hateful or racially or otherwise objectionable, including without limitation material of any kind or nature that encourages conduct that could constitute a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any applicable local, state, provincial, national, or international law or regulation, or encourage the use of controlled substances;
    • Posting advertising or solicitation in categories that is not appropriate, or posting the same item or service in more than one category or more than once every seven (7) days, or posting the same ad in multiple cities on the Site;
      • (a) Posting adult content or explicit adult material unless:
        • (i) such material is specifically permitted in designated adult categories and permitted under applicable federal, state, and local law; and
        • (ii) you are at least 18 years of age or older and not considered to be a minor in your state of residence;
    • Posting, anywhere on the Site, obscene or lewd and lascivious graphics or photographs which depict genitalia or actual or simulated sexual acts, as determined in the sole discretion of backpage.com;
    • Posting any solicitation directly or in “coded” fashion for any illegal service exchanging sexual favors for money or other valuable consideration;
    • Posting any material on the Site that exploits minors in any way;
    • Posting any material on the Site that in any way constitutes or assists in human trafficking.
  4. Posting any ad for products or services, use or sale of which is prohibited by any law or regulation.
  5. Using the Site to engage in or assist another individual or entity to engage in fraudulent, abusive, manipulative, or illegal activity.
  6. Posting free ads promoting links to commercial services or web sites except in areas of the Site where such ads are expressly permitted.
  7. You understand that each time you post an ad on this Site or otherwise use the Site, you agree to these Terms.
  8. By agreeing to these Terms, you acknowledge that the Site may send you e-mail messages telling you about products and services offered by the Site (or its affiliates and partners.
  9. You understand and agree that such communications are part and parcel of your registration for and use of the Site.
  10. If you do not wish to receive further communications from the Site (or its affiliates and partners), you must cancel your registration by sending a cancellation notice to support@backpage.com.
  11. If you choose to receive mobile notifications concerning any ad, you agree that we may send automated text messages to your mobile phone.
  12. If you do not wish to receive such text messages, you should not accept the mobile notifications option.
  13. We will not send you any marketing or advertising by text messages.
  14. Message and data rates may apply for mobile notifications.

Additional Resources

Backpage Prostitution Stings – Visit the website of Officer.com to find a forum in which officers from law enforcement agencies across the country discuss the best ways to conduct sting operations on Backpage to catch unsuspecting pros and johns engaged in prostitution-related activities. Find out why they suggest using the”human trafficking” angle to get the district attorney’s office or state attorney’s office on board with the prosecutions.

Criticism of Backpage as a Hub for Prostitution Advertising – Learn more about the criticism of Backpage.org by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) for being the hub of prostitution adverting and the human trafficking of women and children. NCOSE is the leading national organization exposing the links between pornography and all forms of sexual exploitation, such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking, and the public health crisis of pornography. Learn more about why NCOSE demands that Backpage.com stop promoting and profiting from sexual exploitation by eliminating the “adult services” section of its website.

House Passes Anti-online Sex Trafficking Bill Targeting Backpage.com – Find an article published on February 27, 2018, in The Washington Post about an anti-online sex trafficking bill, “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (“FOSTA”) that targets websites like Backpage.com. The new legislation gives sex trafficking victims, state attorneys, and prosecutors new avenues to pursue legal action against websites hosting advertisements for prostitutes. Backpage has successfully used the Communications Decency Act in past litigation to protect itself from civil and criminal liability for material posted by third parties.


This article was last updated on Monday, April 25, 2022.