U.S. Indicts Ex-Rentboy.com CEO On Prostitution Charge

By Nate Raymomd  Reuters

The former chief executive of the male escort website Rentboy.com was indicted on Wednesday on a charge of promoting prostitution, in a case that has outraged gay and civil rights activists.

The three-count indictment against Jeffrey Hurant, 51, by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn, New York, added money laundering charges not previously filed against the company founder in a criminal complaint in August.

Easy Rent Systems Inc, which did business as Rentboy.com, was also named a defendant. The indictment did not name six former employees who were arrested along with Hurant in August when authorities seized the gay website.

A spokeswoman for Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said the criminal complaint against the former employees remains pending.

The case has prompted criticism among some gay rights activists, who held a protest in September and have questioned why prosecutors are targeting the service after it had operated transparently for nearly two decades.

James Roth, a lawyer for former Rentboy sales agent Clint Calero, said he hoped the indictment meant prosecutors had "acknowledged the merits of our defenses and that we will enter into a non-prosecution agreement."

Lawyers for the Rentboy employees and Hurant either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

Rentboy.com, founded in 1996, became what authorities say was the largest online male escort website, and even hosted an annual escorts awards show called the Hookies.

The website carried disclaimers saying its advertisements for escorts were for companionship and not sexual services. But authorities say Rentboy.com was intended primarily to promote prostitution.

Escorts paid at least $59.95 per month and up to several hundred dollars to advertise on Rentboy.com, which attracted 500,000 unique visitors daily and generated more than $10 million from 2010 to 2015, prosecutors said.

The new indictment said Rentboy also offered an advertising discount to escort agencies and, despite policies banning escorts aged below 18, did not verify their ages.

Critics of the case include The New York Times, which in an editorial in August said prosecutors had not justified shutting down "a company that provided sex workers with a safer alternative to street walking or relying on pimps."

We reached out to the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Department of Homeland Security for insight into why this bust was made now, and what it has to do with the agency's five core missions:

Prevent terrorism and enhancing security;
Secure and manage our borders;
Enforce and administer our immigration laws;
Safeguard and secure cyberspace;
Ensure resilience to disasters

"[Homeland Security] was involved because the crime involved the internet," U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Nellin McIntosh said. "I don’t have an answer as to why now rather than some other time."

We'll update if we hear back from DHS.

The human rights group Amnesty International recently came out in support of decriminalizing sex work, with secretary general Salil Shetty saying in a statement, “Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse."

Speaking to Michael Musto in 2012, marketing director Michael Sean Belman, better known as Sean Van Sant, said, "We say the escorts are selling their time only. What happens between you and the escort is up to you. That's the way it's considered legal."

Law enforcement agents refer to these interviews and other statements along those lines at length in their complaint. Despite all the public record information about how the site operates, DHS went to the trouble of sending an agent undercover to the 2015 Hookies to get Hurant's card and ask him how he got started. He purportedly replied, "Have you ever had sex with anyone and it was so good, you had to tell someone? That’s what it’s all about!” Agents and cops also arrested the company's head of sales, its social media coordinator, a sales account manager, and the accountant.

But why now? Why was 18 years the perfect time to take down Rentboy, the direct sales model of which sex columnist Dan Savage argues "put pimps out of business!"

The site's name is British slang for a male prostitute. It was founded in 1997 by Jeffrey Davids, identified by the feds as Jeffrey Hurant. Since then, it has grown into an international, multi-million dollar business, hosting the Hookies annually, as well as the thrice-yearly dance and cabaret party Hustlaball. The site allows escorts to pay to post ads that, as the federal criminal complaint notes, include whether the escort is circumcised, what his penis size is, whether he requires condom use, what his preferred sex position(s) are, and what his "primary interests" are—options range from "vanilla" and "oral" to "diapers" and "fisting." There are also required fields for hourly rates and overnight rates.

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