CHICAGO — Cook County's sheriff filed a lawsuit Thursday against Craigslist, saying the popular online classifieds site not only allows the solicitation of prostitution but also has actively created "the largest source of prostitution in America."
"They've actually catered their site so it facilitates [prostitution], where you can actually and more specifically and quickly get to what you want," Sheriff Thomas J. Dart said at a news conference while announcing the federal lawsuit.
Craigslist spokeswoman Susan Best said that although the company had not seen the lawsuit, it vehemently disputes the sheriff's contentions. The company cooperates with law enforcement, has taken several steps to prevent illegal use of the site and pulls inappropriate ads, she added.
"Misuse of Craigslist to facilitate criminal activity is unacceptable, and we continue to work diligently to prevent it," Best said.
But Dart said Craigslist had refused over the last two years to prevent people from posting the ads that pop up by the thousands in its "Erotic Services" section.
He acknowledged the company does warn that solicitation of prostitution is prohibited, but said it ignores obviously illegal ads.
"None of these ads require any imagination; there's no mystery," Dart said.
Dart is requesting that a federal judge shut down the website's "Erotic Services" section.
Like other sites, Craigslist generally doesn't check the postings or remove them unless it receives complaints.
"Dart also said his own officers' experience -- in which they posed as minors seeking sex -- demonstrated that Craigslist does not look very hard for illegal activity.
"We put up . . . one saying 14-year-old looking for sex," he said. "That ad wasn't taken down. It sat out there until we took it down."
Craigslist reached an agreement in November with attorneys general in Connecticut, Illinois and several other states that called for the company to crack down on prostitution ads.
Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist's chief executive, said at the time that the agreement would allow legitimate escort services to continue advertising while discouraging illegal activity.