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Craigslist to meet with state AGs over sex ads

  • Story Highlights
  • Craigslist has been under fire over its listings for suspected illegal sexual activities
  • Three state attorneys general plan to meet with Craigslist representatives Tuesday
  • Two sides are expected to discuss eliminating ads for prostitution from the site
  • Philip Markoff is suspected of killing a masseuse he met through Craigslist

By Steven Musil
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(CNET) -- Three state attorneys general were scheduled to meet with Craigslist representatives to begin negotiations toward eliminating advertisements from the site for prostitution and other suspected illegal sexual activities.

Philip H. Markoff is suspected of killing a 25-year-old masseuse he met through Craigslist at a Boston hotel.

Philip H. Markoff is suspected of killing a 25-year-old masseuse he met through Craigslist at a Boston hotel.

State attorneys general from Missouri, Illinois, and Connecticut were to represent a group of state attorneys general in a meeting Tuesday in New York City with representatives of the Web site.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said his office found several ads offering and seeking prostitution on Craigslist pages for the Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia/Jefferson City, and Springfield areas.

"Craigslist is allowing advertisements for illegal activities like prostitution on its site," Koster said a statement. "It is blatant. It is irresponsible. It is illegal."

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster expressed optimism toward the goal of reducing illegal activity on the site but stopped short of discussing the removal of the "erotic services" section.

"Craigslist looks forward to meeting with the attorneys general, and anticipates making further progress toward the common goal of eliminating illegal activity from Craigslist, while preserving its full utility and benefit for tens of millions of law-abiding Americans who value and depend on Craigslist's free local community services in their everyday lives," Buckmaster said in a statement.

The site's erotic services section was thrust into the national spotlight following the arrest last month of Philip H. Markoff, who is suspected of killing a 25-year-old masseuse he met through Craigslist at a Boston hotel. Markoff, a 22-year-old medical student at Boston University, was charged with murder, unlawful possession of a firearm, and kidnapping. He is also suspected of attacks on two other escorts at hotels.

However, even before the so-called "Craigslist killing," the site had worked with a group of 40 attorneys general to create new measures on the site designed to thwart ads for prostitution and other illegal sexual activities. Craigslist requires anyone posting ads to the erotic services section to submit an operational phone number and credit card, the site announced last year.

But those measures don't do enough to stem prostitution, according to a federal lawsuit filed in March against Craigslist by the sheriff of Illinois' Cook County, alleging that the Web's largest classifieds publication is "facilitating prostitution." Sheriff Tom Dart asked the court to force Craigslist to remove the erotic services section and for $100,000 in compensation for the man-hours the county paid police to investigate alleged criminal services being advertised on the site.

Buckmaster suggested at the time that the suit was a waste of time, saying that "Craigslist cannot be held liable, as a matter of clear federal law, for content submitted to the site by our users." Craigslist announced later that month that ads for such services were down 90 percent to 95 percent during the past 12 months on Craigslist sites that serve five major U.S. cities.

However, many CNET News readers suggested that the reduction was due to the ads being relabeled and moved to another section.

While some portray Craigslist as the world's largest bordello, workers in the sex trade say the site helps reduce the risk of violence prostitutes often face.

"Craigslist is important to helping us avoid violence," a 35-year-old sex worker in San Francisco told CNET News last month before the murder in Boston occurred. "Craigslist is a way to filter out that kind of person...and with Craigslist there is no need for pimps."

© 2009 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. CNET, and the CNET logo are registered trademarks of CBS Interactive Inc. Used by permission.

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