Rosenblum vows to protect victims despite Backpage tie

Ellen Rosenblum's husband owns Willamette Week

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum gestures during a debate in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum gestures during a debate in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is up for reelection, and her campaign ads claim her top priority is “protecting the most vulnerable.”

But her husband continues to have business ties to Backpage.com, a website police say pimps often use to advertise children for sex.

Rosenblum is married to Richard Meeker who owns Willamette Week. For years, the newspaper’s website has run classified ads through Backpage.com as part of a business agreement. Clicking through Willamette Week’s website can take you to Backpage.com where police say there are often ads placed for child prostitutes.

The CEO of Backpage.com was arrested in Texas in early October.

This photo released by the Texas Office of the Attorney General shows Carl Ferrer. State agents have raided the Dallas headquarters of adult classified ad portal Backpage and arrested Chief Executive Officer Ferrer. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton alleges that adult and child sex-trafficking victims had been forced into prostitution through escort ads posted on the site. Paxton announced that Ferrer had been arrested Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, on a California warrant after arriving in Houston on a flight from Amsterdam. (Texas Office of the Attorney General via AP)
State agents raided the Dallas headquarters of adult classified ad portal Backpage and arrested CEO Carl Ferrer. (Texas Office of the Attorney General via AP)

It was Rosenblum’s counterparts, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed the charges against him for sex trafficking and pimping underage victims.

“Backpage.com seems to have knowingly and willingly allowed women and children to be exploited for its own financial gain,” Paxton said as he announced the arrest.

Rosenblum and her husband were questioned about their connection to Backpage.com when she ran for office in 2012. It was at that time Meeker asked Backpage.com to remove escort ads from the Willamette Week’s website, which it did. Meeker said no sex ads have been on the site since.

But Meeker didn’t stop working with Backpage.com after that.

Meanwhile, Rosenblum has since signed a letter urging Congress to pass a law that would help in the “eradication of human trafficking.”

The letter from the National Association of Attorneys General specifically discusses websites like Backpage.com that have “created virtual brothels where children are bought and sold using euphemistic labels such as ‘escorts.'”

Rosenblum previously told KOIN 6 News she didn’t know anything about sex trafficking through Backpage.com, or her husband’s involvement with the site.

When asked 18 months ago why she signed the letter if she didn’t know anything about the website, she replied by saying, “Oh, they should crack down on the part of Backpage that runs bad ads in newspapers or magazines. That, my husband does not do.”

Screenshot of Backpage.com, the website accused of facilitating illegal sex-trafficking. January 19, 2015 (KOIN 6)
Screenshot of Backpage.com, the website accused of facilitating illegal sex-trafficking. January 19, 2015 (KOIN 6)

Rosenblum’s newest campaign ads were released just days after the FBI published a video of its nationwide undercover investigation to catch pimps and free people working in the sex industry. In all, 82 minors were found including one in Oregon.

The FBI hasn’t said how it found the victims, but in its video about the operation you can see agents with a sex ad posted on Backpage.com in Michigan.

Despite her varying responses about her husband’s involvement with Backpage.com the incumbent attorney general affirms that she’s a champion for victims in the state.

“I do not think I’m a hypocrite,” she said in 2015. “I think I’m an excellent attorney general. I care a lot about victims and one of my priorities is human trafficking.”

In an email, Meeker said he stepped down as Willamette Week’s publisher and no longer makes business decisions for the paper.

He also said Willamette Week does not carry so-called escort ads.

KOIN 6 News asked Rosenblum for a sit-down interview, but instead received an email from her campaign:

Questions about the dealings of Willamette Week should be addressed to the publisher, Mark Zusman.  Ellen’s husband stepped down as publisher a year ago and is no longer involved in the business decisions of the paper.