Federal officials in Texas seize website promoting prostitution, indict site’s owner

By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist

Officials in Texas have shut down CityXGuide, a prominent prostitution and sex trafficking website.

The U.S. Secret Service working with the Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office seized the website CityXGuide.com and charged the site’s owner Wilhan Martono on 28 charges, including charges related to promoting and facilitating prostitution and money laundering.

Martono was arrested on June 17 in California. After Martono’s arrest, the CityXGuide homepage was replaced with a splash page notifying users that the website had been seized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security pursuant to a warrant.

Leading source for sex trafficking

CityXGuide was a leading source of online advertisements for prostitution and sex trafficking. Users described the site as “taking over from where Backpage left off.” Backpage was a classified advertising website that had become the largest marketplace for prostitution by the time federal law enforcement agencies seized it in April 2018.

Martono was charged in part under FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act), a law passed in April 2018 that allows the federal government to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking.

According to the indictment, Martono allegedly netted more than $21 million off a suite of illicit websites promoting prostitution and sex trafficking. He allegedly registered the domain names for several of the sites just one day after the FBI shut down Backpage.

CityXGuide allegedly allowed brothels, pimps and prostitutes to post hundreds of thousands of ads for sexual services despite terms of use purportedly forbidding such ads. The global CityXGuide website included a list of 14 “Favorite Cities,” including Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami and Boston.

‘Harsh reminder’

Ryan L. Spradlin, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations’ Dallas field office, said the 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.”

Law enforcement has identified numerous minor victims in CityXGuide ads, including a 13-year-old Jane Doe recovered in North Texas in November 2019.

If convicted, Martono faces up to 25 years in federal prison.

Read the full release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas by clicking here.