DALLAS — The website CityXGuide.com – a leading source of online advertisements for prostitution and sex trafficking that users described as "taking over from where Backpage left off" – has been seized and its owner charged in a 28-count federal indictment.
Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) assigned to HSI Dallas conducted the investigation. The North Texas Trafficking Task Force spearheaded the investigation with the assistance from the U.S. Secret Service, the Colleyville Police Department as well as HSI El Paso (Texas), HSI San Jose (California) and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Wilhan Martono, 46, was indicted June 2 on one count of promotion of prostitution and reckless disregard of sex trafficking, one count of interstate racketeering conspiracy (facilitating prostitution), nine counts of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering (facilitating prostitution), and 17 counts of money laundering. On June 17, HSI and U.S. Secret Service agents arrested him in Fremont, California.
Shortly after the defendant's arrest, CityXGuide was replaced with a splash page notifying users that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had seized the website pursuant to a warrant.
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.com, then the Internet's leading source of prostitution and sex trafficking advertisements.
In correspondence with Martono, one of his CityXGuide advertisers noted that the website was "taking over from where Backpage left off."
CityXGuide and its companion websites allegedly 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. 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, Lowe's, Amazon and other retailers. Martono allegedly used CardCash, a third-party gift card reseller, to exchange these gift cards for U.S. currency.
Martono allegedly took steps to conceal his online activity by routing website traffic through an IP address in Europe, using a VPN to mask his IP address while conducting CardCash transactions, and funneling his proceeds through a network of business and personal bank accounts. At the time of Martono's arrest, DHS seized millions of dollars from accounts he controlled.
CityXGuide, which served clients across the globe, included a list of 14 "Favorite Cities," including Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Boston.
Law enforcement has identified numerous minor victims in CityXGuide advertisements, including a 13-year-old Jane Doe rescued in North Texas in November 2019.
An indictment is merely an allegation of criminal conduct, not evidence. Like all defendants, Martono is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in federal prison.
Martono was charged in part under FOSTA, a law passed in the wake of the Backpage scandal in April 2018 that allows the federal government to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking.
Assistant United States Attorneys Sid Mody, Rebekah Ricketts and John de la Garza are prosecuting the case.