CityXGuide Owner Sentenced to 8+ Years in Prison for Reckless Disregard of Sex Trafficking, Racketeering Conspiracy

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FILE PHOTO: American flag waves outside the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington

The owner of CityXGuide.com – a leading source of online ads for sex trafficking victims – was sentenced today to more than eight years in federal prison and ordered to forfeit more than $15 million in assets, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham.

Wilhan Martono, 48, was arrested on June 19, 2020, the same day CityXGuide and its sister websites were seized by Homeland Security Investigations.

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.  The plea was the first ever entered under the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), the 2018 law that allows the federal government to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking.

He was sentenced Monday to 97 months in federal prison by Chief U.S. District Judge David Godbey, who also ordered him to forfeit more than $15 million in assets, including more than $2 million in silver bullion and almost $1 million in cryptocurrency.

“The owner of CityXGuide intentionally disregarded the blatant sexual abuse occurring on his platform. He profited off of the exploitation of vulnerable women and children, just like the traffickers advertising them on his website did,” said U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham. “Human trafficking is one of the most despicable crimes we prosecute. The Justice Department and its partners will not rest until sites like this are eliminated and their creators brought to justice.”

“Thanks to the investigative efforts of our law enforcement partners on the HSI Dallas led North Texas Trafficking Task Force, the largest digital market place for sex trafficking and prostitution no longer exists,” said Lester R. Hayes Jr., Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Dallas. “This defendant’s greed and trafficking of those who were exploited through the commercial sex websites he created has cost him his freedom and the forfeiture of the criminal proceeds he obtained while committing these crimes.  HSI will not relent until those who conspire in these illegal activities are brought to justice.”

“Today’s sentencing illustrates the Secret Service’s steadfast commitment to investigating financial crimes that take place in the ever-evolving cyber domain,” said Secret Service Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas Field Office William Smarr. “We are thankful for the tireless work of our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners as we worked together to bring this case to justice.”

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According to court documents, Mr. Martono admitted that he created, owned, and operated CityXGuide and a suite of related websites, including Backpage.co, CAPleasures.com, and BodyRubShop.com, among others. 

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.

In plea papers, Mr. Martono admitted that he turned a blind eye to the illegal sex trafficking occurring on CityXGuide. 

Despite terms of use purportedly forbidding the advertisement of illegal sexual services, CityXGuide and its affiliated websites allowed brothels, pimps, and prostitutes to post hundreds of thousands of advertisements for sexual services, which users could then filter by geography and preference.  The sites allowed advertisers to select from a pre-populated list of “intimate activities,” then add nude photographs, descriptions, work hours, methods of payment, and contact information for the women being advertised.  In order to secure premium placement, the websites offered paid “upgrades,” which could be purchased in Bitcoin or in exchange for gift cards from Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon, and other retailers. 

Mr. Martono then used CardCash, a third party gift card reseller, to exchange these gift cards for U.S. currency. He used a VPN to mask his IP address while conducting these CardCash transactions, then funneled proceeds though a network of business and personal bank accounts.

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.”

The North Texas Trafficking Task Force conducted the investigation, led by Homeland Security Investigations’ Dallas Field Office, the United States Secret Service’s Dallas Field Office, 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 John de la Garza, Sid Mody (fmr), and Rebekah Ricketts (fmr) prosecuted the case.