FREMONT — A Bay Area man is in federal custody and awaiting extradition to Texas, where he is set to face federal charges that allege he set up sex trafficking websites on an international scale, raking in $21 million in proceeds within a two-year span.
Wilhan Martono, 46, was arrested Wednesday in Fremont, and was being held Thursday in the Santa Rita Jail on a no-bail hold. In coming days, the U.S. Marshals are expected to move him to Dallas, Texas, where he is facing 28 federal counts.
The charges include conspiracy, promotion and facilitation of prostitution, racketeering, and more than a dozen money laundering charges. The indictment against Martono alleges that his sites included not only adult prostitution “services,” but ads featuring “numerous child trafficking victims,” including one who was identified as a 13-year-old girl who was rescued in Texas last November.
The website names included “CityXGuide,” and “BodyRubShop,” as well as an alteration on the infamous adult services website Backpage, which was shut down by the federal government in April 2018. The indictment alleges that Martono first purchased a CityXGuide domain in 2004, but in 2018 — after the fall of Backpage — he expressed a desire to kick things into overdrive.
A month after Backpage was shut down, Martono allegedly purchased a domain called “New Backpage.” In January 2019, in an email exchange with a “promoter,” he expressed a desire to take over, “from where Backpage left off,” the indictment alleges.
The sites allowed users to search for sex workers in five continents and more than 14 cities in the United States, including San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Las Vegas, and San Diego, the indictment says. Users could pick from a range of services, everything from massage and “lunch dates” to a range of specific sexual acts.
Users were expected to pay electronically with Bitcoin or gift cards, which make it harder for authorities to track, the indictment alleges. The websites were set up with physical addresses listed in a Hong Kong apartment, and phone numbers that went back to a property management company there, prosecutors say.
During the investigation, authorities tracked 16 different wire transfers from November 2018 to May 2019, in which Martono deposited thousands of gift cards that added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As part of the indictment, the U.S. Department of Justice is moving to seize the contents of 12 bank accounts allegedly operated by Martono, as well as an undisclosed amount of silver bullion that was allegedly purchased from a business in Singapore.