The US Department of Justice and the seven defendants in the rentboy.com case very quickly moved to plea negotiations after the August 25 raid on the Manhattan offices of the online escort site.
“The raid and arrests are a huge black eye for the Eastern District’s US Attorney’s office,” said William Dobbs, a gay civil libertarian, who noted that there is nothing unusual about the plea negotiations. “Hopefully, the extended period of quiet means the prosecutors are trying to figure a way to drop this case, which made the [Eastern District], the Justice Department, and the Obama administration look very bad.”
The US Department of Homeland Security made the arrests and raided the offices. The case is being prosecuted by the Eastern District, which oversees Brooklyn and Long Island, and not by the US Attorney for the Southern District, which is headquartered in Manhattan.
On September 18, the prosecutor filed an “Order of Excludable delay form” with the federal court in Brooklyn. Federal law generally gives US attorneys 30 days to indict a person following their arrest and then 70 days following the indictment to take the case to trial. The order stopped the clock on those deadlines for 30 days. A second order was filed on October 23 that extended the delay until November 23.
As in the state courts, more than nine out of 10 cases in the federal courts end in a plea bargain so the delays are not unusual nor does the speed with which they were requested indicate anything about the strength or weakness of the case against the rentboy.com defendants.
“It’s regularly the case, in the districts that I know of in particular, when there is anything interesting about a case that it will end in a plea,” said Daniel C. Richman, a law professor who teaches criminal procedure at Columbia Law School.
In an email, Joyce David, the attorney for Edward Estanol, one of the defendants, wrote, “We all wanted some time to see if something can be worked out. I wouldn’t read anything into that. When a case is being adjourned, that is a common reason.”
The case spawned protests in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and condemnations from some leading LGBT groups. The New York Times editorial page wrote that prosecutors “have provided no reasonable justification for devoting significant resources, particularly from an agency charged with protecting America from terrorists, to shut down a company that provided sex workers with a safer alternative to street walking or relying on pimps.”
Cy Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, was initially credited with helping the rentboy.com investigation in a press release issued by the Eastern District. Vance’s office asked that its name be removed from that release, saying it had not helped, and very pointedly brought this request to the attention of Gay City News.
In an email, James Roth, who represents Clint Calero, also a defendant, wrote that while the prosecutor might want the case to end, what that end will look like is undecided.
“I think you are correct that they want to make it go away, but precisely what that means is TBD!” Roth wrote to Gay City News.
The other defense attorneys in the case and the press office for the Eastern District either declined comment or did not respond to requests for comment.