CHICAGO (AP) – Craigslist, decried as an Internet brothel and under intense scrutiny after a Boston man was charged with killing a masseuse he found on the online classifieds site, was met with skepticism Wednesday as it unveiled plans to drop its “erotic services” category.

Even law enforcement officials who trumpeted the move as a victory against online prostitution acknowledged uncertainty about whether it will put a dent in the practice and wariness of Craigslist’s plan to offer a fee-based “adult services” category where postings would be monitored before appearing online.

Craigslist has not prescreened ads in the past, choosing instead to remove them only after receiving complaints.

“I’m not going to take their word for it, we want to see action,” said Dan Gallagher, an attorney representing Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who sued Craigslist in March, accusing it of being the nation’s biggest source of prostitution.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo had even harsher words, saying the decision came only after his office informed Craigslist a criminal probe had implicated the site.

“Rather than work with this office to prevent further abuses, in the middle of the night, Craigslist took unilateral action which we suspect will prove to be half-baked,” he said in a statement.

Craigslist did little to quell concerns, refusing to comment beyond a prepared statement by its CEO and leaving unanswered a host of questions about how the site could possibly screen all the ads and whether it would simply drive solicitation underground.

“It doesn’t guarantee that such activity will not pop up elsewhere, and it doesn’t guarantee that it won’t pop up elsewhere using highly coded words,” said Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“By now someone has probably registered the domain name ‘Craigslisteroticicservices.com,”‘ Jones said.

Craigslist officials and attorneys general from Illinois, Connecticut and Missouri met last week. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the group told Craigslist their own checks had revealed the service was not monitoring the site as it had promised last year.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had brokered an agreement with the site in November to crack down on prostitution ads after being contacted about several complaints about photographs depicting nudity.

“We told them they had a week to respond,” Madigan said Wednesday. “Essentially what we said to them is, ‘Either, if you are not willing to police this section effectively, it has to come down.”‘ The erotic services ads will expire in seven days, the Web site and Madigan’s office said.

Although authorities had expressed concern about the ads in the past, the Web site came under closer scrutiny last month after a Boston-area man was accused of fatally shooting a woman who placed an ad on Craigslist.

Police believe 22-year-old Philip Markoff may have been involved in other crimes against women who also posted ads on Craigslist. Some reports have suggested he was robbing victims to pay gambling debts.

Law enforcement promised to keep a close eye on Craigslist as it implemented the changes. Madigan said there was a risk that the reforms could just drive prostitution to other platforms, but she insisted authorities will monitor those sites, too.

One major question stemmed from Craigslist’s vow only to monitor the new “adult services” category and not other areas people may try to place solicitation ads, such as under the personals ads.

Gallagher also wondered why Craigslist agreed to monitor the site after making previous statements that doing so would be too expensive.

Craigslist said new postings in the “adult services” category will cost $10, but once such a posting is approved, customers will be eligible for reposting at $5.

“Closing the erotic services section – a blatant Internet brothel – should lead to other blocking and screening measures, and set a model for other sites, if Craigslist keeps its word,” Connecticut’s Blumenthal said in a statement.

Dart, the Cook County sheriff, said the action by Craigslist “is what happens frequently when all of a sudden people are looking at a court date.” The announcement came on the same day prosecutors and a Craigslist attorney appeared in federal court.

Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist’s CEO, said the agreement should satisfy all parties. He said it preserves a place “for legal businesses to advertise” while incorporating feedback from attorneys general, free speech advocates, law enforcement, Internet law experts and millions of Americans who use the site.

Dart said his lawsuit will stay on file until he sees changes online.

“If we see what we’d ask for … we will dismiss our lawsuit,” Dart said.

Craigslist agreed to take action despite its contention that it has been unfairly singled out by what Buckmaster called “sensationalistic journalism.”

“The record is clear that use of Craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds, let alone rates of violent crime pertaining to American society as a whole,” he said.


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