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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CBSDFW.COM/AP) A California judge has tentatively rejected pimping charges against the operators of a major international website that advertises escort services.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman said Wednesday the state attorney general’s office cannot continue prosecuting Backpage.com’s CEO, Carl Ferrer, and two former owners.

Ferrer, who lives in Frisco, was arrested after he arrived in Houston on a flight from Amsterdam. Authorities also executed a search warrant at the Dutch company’s headquarters in Oaklawn.

The men were charged by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who called Backpage.com “the world’s top online brothel.”

The judge agreed with Ferrer, 55, and former owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin that the website operators are protected by federal law related to free speech.

Bowman says he will throw out charges of pimping and trafficking prostitutes. He set a hearing on the preliminary ruling later Wednesday.

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