The San Francisco-based escort website MyRedbook.com was shut down by federal authorities Wednesday.
Eric Omuro, 53, and Annmarie Lanoce, 40, were arrested during a FBI raid at a home in Mountain View. Both are charged with one count of interstate travel in the aid of a racketeering enterprise, and Omuro is charged with an additional twenty-four counts of money laundering. The suspects were arraigned in federal court in San Francisco this afternoon.
At Wednesday's court session, Lanoce pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released by Judge Nathanael Cousins on a $250,000 unsecured bond, according to the court docket.
Omuro, who did not enter a plea, is due back in Cousins' court at 9:30 a.m. Friday for identification of a defense attorney and entry of a plea. He was released on a $500,000 unsecured bond.
Both were ordered to appear July 10 before U.S. District Judge William Orrick, the trial judge assigned to the case, in San Francisco for a status conference.
Federal prosecutors say the pair used the mail and the Internet to facilitate prostitution. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Omuro ran two websites, sfredbook.com and myredbook.com, with Lanoce's assistance. Both domains were seized by the FBI today.
In a statement posted on MyRedbook's homepage, the FBI said the domain was subject to civil and criminal forfeiture. "This seizure is based on probable cause to believe that this domain name was involved in money laundering derived from racketeering based on prostitution in violation of state and federal law," the statement says.
MyRedbook billed itself as a place for escorts and massage parlors to advertise their services. However, the U.S. Attorney's office said in a statement, "The website hosted advertisements for prostitutes, complete with explicit photos, lewd physical descriptions, menus of sexual services, hourly and nightly rates, and customer reviews of the prostitutes’ services."
According to the criminal indictment, Omuro used multiple aliases to transfer money from MyRedbook business bank accounts into accounts that he controlled. The indictment seeks the forfeiture of more than $5 million in property and assets Omuro allegedly gained by facilitating prostitution.
FBI spokesman Peter Lee confirmed multiple arrest warrants were served throughout the South Bay, but could not reveal the total number of arrests or whether they were related to MyRedbook.
CNN reports that the shutdown was part of a broad FBI crackdown on child prostitution, citing anonymous law enforcement sources.
Kristina Dolgin, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, expressed concern that the raid would adversely affect a broad swath of local sex workers. Because it is free for escorts to post ads on MyRedbook, Dolgin said, "This will be impacting the most marginalized workers."
Escorts use online services like MyRedbook to screen potential clients, Dolgin added. "Using an online platform, there is at least the opportunity to interact with the client from a distance," she said. "People may have to resort to less safe means of supporting themselves."
However, MyRedbook has also been a resource for law enforcement targeting pimps. Local police have used the website to conduct stings. In 2011, San Mateo County prosecutors used the site to arrest several suspects who were believed to be pimping underage girls.
Bay City News contributed to this report.