The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas is seeking individuals who were trafficked on CityXGuide, a commercial sex website shut down by the federal government in June 2020, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah.
Prosecutors are requesting that victims — who are afforded rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CRVA) and may be eligible for restitution — visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndtx/united-states-v-wilhan-martono-cityxguide to submit their information.
The U.S. Attorney’s questionnaire will allow victims to outline any physical or mental health injuries they sustained as a result of human trafficking (information that is critically important to request court-ordered victim compensation at sentencing) and to share their thoughts on the sentence the judge should impose CityXGuide owner Wilhan Martono.
Mr. Martono, 47, was arrested on June 19, 2020, the same day his websites were seized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 24, 2021 to one count of promotion of prostitution and reckless disregard of sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to engage in interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises – facilitating prostitution. His plea is the first ever entered under the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), a 2018 law that allows the federal government to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking.
In plea papers, Mr. Martono admitted that he created, owned, and operated CityXGuide and a suite of related websites. He registered the domain names for several of the sites on April 8, 2018 — just one day after the feds shut down Backpage.com, then the internet’s leading source of commercial sex advertisements. Like Backpage, Mr. Martono’s sites allowed users, including traffickers, to post hundreds of thousands of commercial sex advertisements worldwide.
Mr. Martono admitted that he turned a blind eye to the illegal sex trafficking occurring on CityXGuide. Despite receiving numerous emails from federal, state, and local law enforcement informing him that CityXGuide and its companion websites were being used to facilitate sex trafficking and child exploitation, he continued to operate those sites in the United States and around the world. In court documents, prosecutors estimated that Mr. Martono netted more than $21 million off his websites, which users described as “taking over from where Backpage left off.”
Law enforcement has already identified numerous trafficking victims in CityXGuide advertisements, including a 13-year-old Jane Doe identified in North Texas in November 2019 and a 16-year-old Jane Doe identified in North Texas in March 2020. Prosecutors are now seeking to notify all survivors of sex trafficking who were advertised on CityXGuide.
Potential victims include minors who were advertised on Cityxguide.com or a related website (including Cityxguide.net, Cityxguide.co, Cityxguide.be, Bodyrubshop.com, CAPleasures.com, or Backpage.co), as well as adults subjected to force, threats of force, fraud, and/or coercion at the time they were advertised on CityXGuide or a related website.
Under the CVRA, victims are entitled to timely notice of public court proceedings, the right to be treated with respect for their dignity and privacy, and the right to be reasonably heard at any sentencing proceeding.
The North Texas Trafficking Task Force conducted the investigation, led by Homeland Security Investigations’ Dallas Field Office, the United States Secret Service, and the Colleyville Police Department, with assistance from HSI’s El Paso and San Jose Field Offices as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety. Assistant United States Attorneys Sid Mody, Rebekah Ricketts, and John de la Garza are prosecuting the case.