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Hawley campaigns at St. Charles airplane parts manufacturer

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley speaks with reporters after a U.S. Senate campaign appearance tour of Patriot Machine Inc., a St. Charles airplane parts manufacturer, on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS • Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is seeking sanctions against the classified ad website Backpage.cοm, claiming the company knowingly lied to a federal judge. 

The motion says Backpage sued Hawley's office last year in an attempt to impede an investigation of the company. In court, the company claimed it wasn't responsible for ads promoting human trafficking, that it deleted such ads when it spotted them and had immunity under the Communications Decency Act because it had no role in creating the unlawful content.

But the filing says Backpage's claims were false — contradicted by recent guilty pleas in state and federal court after authorities seized and shut down the website.

Hawley's motion seeks sanctions against the company and its lawyers, including monetary sanctions that could include court costs, legal expenses and a fee that would go to trafficking victims.

Backpage's lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. They withdrew from the case May 9.

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U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia L. Cohen tossed out the company's lawsuit in November. Her order says federal courts should abstain from interfering with an ongoing state proceeding.

Backpage has been the target of law enforcement and regulators for years because of concerns over sex trafficking via the company's adult advertising, including minors prostituted on the website in the St. Louis area and elsewhere.

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