Jim Larkin, the co-owner of classified advertising site Backpage before the federal government shut it down five years ago, committed suicide this week — eight days before his second trial on federal charges of facilitating prostitution was scheduled to open.

The death was reported by the Arizona Republic and other media. The Republic said the Superior Police Department confirmed Larkin died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Larkin, 74, was scheduled to go on trial next Tuesday (Aug. 8) in U.S. District Court in Phoenix with Michael Lacey, his primary codefendant, and four other former employees and executives of Backpage. Carl Ferrer, who bought Backpage from Larkin and Lacey before it was shut down, pleaded guilty in 2018 on behalf of himself and the website.

Larkin’s death came after extended legal battles lasting off and on since 2008, when Larkin and Lacey were arrested by notorious Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio, for publishing a subpoena. The county eventually agreed to pay Larkin and Lacey nearly $4 million for the wrongful arrest. Later, federal, Arizona and California prosecutors investigated Backpage, Larkin and Lacey from the mid 2010s until the federal government seized the site in 2018 and shut it down. Larkin, Lacey and several other company employees were charged with facilitating prostitution, money laundering and other crimes.

Larkin and Lacey maintained they never broke any laws, and were acting within both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, which indemnifies websites from liability for any content posted by users.

Larkin and Lacey went to trial in 2021. But U.S. District Judge Susan Brnovich declared a mistrial after several days of testimony, citing misconduct by the prosecutors. An appeals court later ruled that the men could be tried again.

U.S. District Judge Diane Humetawa issued an order on Tuesday saying the trial would continue as scheduled next week, with dismissal of Larkin as a defendant because he was deceased.

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