On Thursday, a federal judge in Arizona unsealed an April 5 plea agreement in which Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer admits to charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering, and Ferrer also pleaded guilty to California state charges of conspiracy and money laundering. As part of the plea deals, Ferrer agreed to testify against former colleagues at Backpage, which the FBI seized and shut down on April 6, calling it a lucrative nationwide "online brothel." Also Thursday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that the company, headquartered in Dallas, has pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy.
"For far too long, Backpage.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "But this illegality stops right now." California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called the plea deal "a game changer in combating human trafficking" and "modern-day slavery" in California and worldwide.
Backpage founders Michael Lacey, 69, and James Larkin, 68, have pleaded not guilty, as have five other executives, and Lacey and Larkin are in prison in Arizona while they await a court hearing. Under the plea deals, Ferrer, 57, would spend no more than five years in prison and could pay up to $250,000 in fines. Federal prosecutors say that Backpage, founded in 2004, took over the business of running racy ads for escorts, massages, and other services after Craigslist shut down its adult section under pressure in 2010. Backpage officials say they tried to remove ads for things like prostitution and underage sex trafficking from their site. Peter Weber
An Australian woman has been sentenced to three months in jail after lying about having terminal cancer and using donations from concerned friends and family on vacations, but her attorney says this isn't fair because she only scammed people out of $31,000.
After Hanna Dickenson, 24, told her parents she had cancer and needed to get medical treatment overseas, donations started coming in; Judge David Starvaggi said that in one case, a cancer patient donated to her while undergoing his own treatment. Since Dickenson didn't actually have cancer, the money wasn't spent on medical care, but rather on vacations and going out with friends. A donor turned her in to the police after becoming suspicious of photos she posted on Facebook, BBC News reports.
Starvaggi called the scheme "despicable," and said Dickenson "engaged in conduct that tears at the very heartstrings of human nature." She pleaded guilty to seven charges of obtaining property by deception, but Dickenson's lawyer, Beverley Lindsay, said she shouldn't have to do time because she has "turned her life around," and also, Dickenson didn't pull in as much money as blogger Belle Gibson, who was fined $317,000 last year for falsely saying she survived brain cancer. Starvaggi told Lindsay to stop comparing apples to oranges, and said this should serve as a warning to anyone else planning on carrying out a similar scam. Catherine Garcia
A court in Seoul convicted former South Korean President Park Geun-hye of bribery, extortion, abuse of power, and other corruption-related charges on Friday and sentenced her to 24 years in prison and a $16.8 million fine. Park, who maintains her innocence, was not in court to hear the verdict. She has a week to appeal the verdict; she claimed to be ill but has refused to appear in court since October. "It's inevitable that the defendant should be held strictly responsible for her crimes, if only to prevent the unfortunate event of (a president) abusing the power given by the people and causing chaos in state affairs," Seoul Central District Court chief judge Kim Se-yun said in the televised hearing.
Park was impeached in December 2016 and removed from office in March 2017 by the Constitutional Court, and the scandal has also taken down longtime ally Choi Soon-sil, who is serving 20 years, and dozens of other government and business leaders, most prominently Samsung heir apparent Lee Jae-yong, whose five-year sentence was cut in half and suspended. Park is just the latest leader in South Korea to fall to corruption charges, The Associated Press notes. Her predecessor, fellow conservative Lee Myung-bak, was arrested and sent to jail last month on unrelated corruption charges, and the president before him, liberal Roh Moo-hyum, jumped to his death in 2009 as his family came under investigation for corruption. Peter Weber
The FBI has arrested an unidentified Michigan man who allegedly called CNN 22 times about a week ago and threatened to stage a mass shooting at CNN headquarters, Atlanta CBS affiliate WGCL-TV reported Monday, citing federal court documents. The man began by telling a CNN operator, "Fake news. I'm going to gun you all down," the court documents say, and later threats included: "I have more guns that you. More manpower. Your cast is about to get gunned down in a matter of hours"; and "I am coming to Georgia right now to go to the CNN headquarters to f---ing gun every single last one of you."
The FBI traced the calls to a house in the Detroit suburbs and arrested the man. "We take any threats to CNN employees or workplaces, around the world, extremely seriously," CNN said in a statement. "This one is no exception. We have been in touch with local and federal law enforcement throughout, and have taken all necessary measures to ensure the safety of our people." President Trump has repeatedly called CNN "fake news" and gave the network four of the 11 citations in his "Fake News Awards" last week. Peter Weber
A 70-year-old woman named Betty Miller who lived in a Vermont retirement community produced ricin, a toxin that naturally occurs in the seeds of the castor oil plant, and tested it on her neighbors, local police report. Miller told authorities she wanted the deadly poison to "injure herself" but decided to test the compound on others first by putting in their food. She confessed her activities to the senior home staff, who called the police.
Miller has been charged with possession of a biological weapon. Only one of her neighbors was made ill by her experiments and has since recovered. Miller will not return to her retirement home. Bonnie Kristian
The FBI on Friday revealed the prosecution of three men accused of unsuccessfully plotting "the next 9/11" attack in New York City in 2016 out of sympathy to the Islamic State.
The men allegedly intended to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, to bomb the subway system, and to open fire on crowds at several concert venues last summer either on Memorial Day or during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The plot was foiled significantly thanks to an undercover FBI agent posing as another ISIS supporter.
The three suspects are Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, a Canadian citizen arrested in New York; Talha Haroon, a U.S. citizen living in Pakistan; and Russell Salic of the Philippines. El Bahnasawy, who used the "next 9/11" phrase, has already pleaded guilty to several terrorism charges and is awaiting sentencing. The other two men will be extradited to the United States for prosecution. All three face life in prison. Bonnie Kristian
On Friday morning, a court in Seoul found Samsung's acting chairman and heir apparent Lee Jae-yong guilty of bribery, embezzlement, perjury, hiding money overseas, and other corruption-related charges and sentenced him to five years in prison. Lee, a 49-year-old billionaire, has maintained his innocence. Prosecutors said that Lee gave $38 million in bribes to foundations operated by Choi Soon-sil, a friend of since-impeached President Park Geun-hye, on the presumption that Park would support a merger that strengthened Lee's control over his family's lucrative business empire. Park and Choi are also on trial, separately. Prosecutors were seeking a 12-year sentence for Lee, who can still appeal the verdict. Peter Weber
A Northwestern University professor, Wyndham Lathem, and a staffer from Britain's Oxford University, Andrew Warren, were arrested by U.S. Marshals in Oakland, California, Friday after a national manhunt in connection to a murder in Chicago.
Lathem and Warren are both suspects in the stabbing death of Trenton Cornell-Duranleau, 26, a cosmetologist. The two men separately turned themselves in to Bay Area authorities.