Wilhan Martono, the owner and operator of several websites known to facilitate commercial sex across the globe, was arrested on June 17 in Fremont, California by Homeland Security Investigations and the United States Secret Service. Martono was indicted on 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. If convicted, Martono faces up to 25 years in prison.
Martono’s websites, including CityXGuide.com and 1Backpage.com, advertised adults and children for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. These platforms contained hundreds of thousands of posts for “intimate activities” that potential sex buyers could filter by location and interest.
During the investigation, authorities discovered correspondence between Martono and an advertiser who stated the website was “taking over from where Backpage left off.” Court documents allege that Martono registered the domain for 1Backpage.com, CityXGuide.com, along with a half a dozen others immediately following Backpage.com’s seizure by the FBI in April 2018.
“Like the owners of Backpage, this defendant made millions facilitating the online exploitation of women and children,” said United States Attorney, Erin Nealy. In fact, it is estimated that Martona has earned more than $21 million with his enterprises since 2018. Posts on Martono’s websites allegedly facilitated the trafficking of numerous minor victims, including a 13-year-old female recovered in North Texas in November 2019. The victim was advertised on CityXGuide. After Martono was arrested, The Department of Homeland Security took down CityXGuide, replacing it with a warning that the site had “been seized” by the agency. The CityXGuide Twitter account also appears to have been suspended.
Martono allegedly used bitcoin and third-party gift card resale companies, such as CardCash to cover the money trail generated from his illicit websites. Advertisers on Martono’s websites would pay in gift cards from places like BestBuy, Walmart, Amazon, Lowes, and others. Martono would then exchange the gift cards, directing proceeds into personal bank accounts. While working on the transactions, Martono made the conscious effort to hide his IP address using a VPN (virtual private network).
As allies in the fight against commercial sexual exploitation, the CSE Institute is glad to see authorities taking serious steps to eradicate sex trafficking where it happens most often – the internet. The proliferation of countless commercial sex websites, like Backpage and CityXGuide, have had a heavy hand in contributing to the ease at which sex buyers are able to gain access to trafficked and exploited individuals. The series of charges against Martono for his role in perpetuating the exploitation of countless persons is a promising step in the right direction. We look forward to informing you with more details as this case continues to unfold.