Federal authorities say that the rescue of a 13-year-old girl who was being sex trafficked in North Texas in late 2019 led to the eventual indictment of a website owner who boasted that his site would be ‘taking over from where Backpage left off.’
The unidentified minor – who was saved last November – was just one of many identified minor victims who were advertised on CityXGuide.com – owned by 46-year-old Wilhan Martono.
Martono was indicted on June 2 on one count of promotion of prostitution and reckless disregard of sex trafficking, one count of interstate racketeering conspiracy, nine counts of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering and 17 counts of money laundering.
He was arrested on June 17 by Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Secret Service, the United State Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox announced in a statement.
The unidentified minor – who was saved from a hotel in North Texas last November – was just one of many identified minor victims who were advertised on CityXGuide.com – owned by 46-year-old Wilhan Martono
‘As soon as DOJ shut down one despicable site, another popped up to take its place,’ said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox.
‘Like the owners of Backpage, this defendant made millions facilitating the online exploitation of women and children. The Justice Department will not rest until these sites are eliminated and their owners held accountable for their crimes.’
According to an indictment, Martono netted more than $21million off illicit websites that advertised prostitution and sex trafficking.
He is said to have allegedly registered the domain names for several sites just a day after Backpage.com was shut down by the FBI.
‘As soon as DOJ shut down one despicable site, another popped up to take its place,’ said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox. ‘Like the owners of Backpage, this defendant made millions facilitating the online exploitation of women and children. The Justice Department will not rest until these sites are eliminated and their owners held accountable for their crimes’
At the time of it’s shut down, Backpage was the leading source of prostitution and sex trafficking advertisements, according to the statement.
Users could filter the geography and preferences that they had.
The website has since been seized by the U.S Department of Homeland Security.
Advertisers could select from pre-populated list of ‘intimate activities,’ then add nude photos, work hours and methods of pay. They would also offer description of their services and selected contact info for the women and girls who were advertised.
Paid ‘upgrades’ were offered to those who wanted premium placement, which required Bitcoin or gift cards to purchase.
Martono also allegedly used CardCash, a third party gift card reseller, to exchange money and gift cards.
He is said to have taken steps to conceal his online activity by routing traffic through an IP address in Europe, while also using a VPN to hide his IP address while exchanging funds.
Authorities seized millions when they arrested Martono.
The website has since been seized by the U.S Department of Homeland Security
While CityXGuide had clients across the globe, its top cities included Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Boston.
‘This case is a harsh reminder of the ruthlessness of human traffickers and lengths to which they go, including victimizing women and children, to make a profit,’ said Ryan L. Spradlin, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations’ Dallas Field Office.
‘HSI maintains its unwavering commitment to investigate these heinous crimes, rescue victims, and prosecute the offenders to the fullest extent of the law.’
If convicted, Martono faces up to 25 years in prison. He was charged as part of FOSTA, which allows the federal government to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking.
‘The Secret Service remains committed to investigating and pursuing those responsible for cyber-enabled financial crimes. Although the explosive expansion of the cyber domain has forced us to develop innovative ways of conducting these types of investigations, our proven model remains the same,’ said Secret Service Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas Field Office William Smarr.
‘This investigation is an excellent example of a partnership between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies working together to successfully prosecute numerous violations of federal statutes. There are real innocent victims due to these crimes. The Secret Service also thanks the Northern District of Texas United States Attorney’s Office for their aggressive support.’