Effectively bringing an end to a controversial criminal case that sparked protests and charges the federal government was wasting taxpayer money on prosecuting a victimless crime, the chief executive of rentboy.com pleaded guilty to one count of promoting prostitution and, on behalf of the business, one count of money laundering during an October 7 appearance in Brooklyn federal court.
Jeffrey Hurant, 51, said he accepted money from “advertisers and promoted their exchange of sexual conduct for a fee in violation of New York state law” and “I agreed with others to accept payments from multiple advertisers” during the court appearance.
The government recommended a prison term in the range of 15 to 21 months. Any fines could be as low as $250,000 or range into the millions of dollars. He will be sentenced on February 2 next year by Judge Margo Brodie. The judge is not bound by the government’s recommendations.
Hurant, who is the website’s sole shareholder, founded rentboy.com in 2001. The site linked men who were selling sexual and other private services to customers, but it did not broker the transactions or participate in any exchanges between buyers and sellers on the site. Ostensibly, the men selling sex were paying for advertising.
The site’s Manhattan offices were raided in August 2015 and Hurant and six employees were arrested. Charges against the six employees were dropped earlier this year.
Hurant was eventually indicted on one count of violating the federal Travel Act and two counts of violating a federal money laundering statute. The Travel Act, which was enacted in 1961, makes certain state crimes a violation of federal law when they are committed across state lines or by using a phone, email, snail mail, or other forms interstate commerce. The underlying state charges in this case were promoting prostitution and facilitating a crime by a person under 16.
The raid and arrests sparked protests in four cities, including New York, and condemnations from LGBT groups. The New York Times editorial page called it “somewhat baffling… that taking down a website that operated in plain sight for nearly two decades suddenly became an investigative priority for the Department of Homeland Security and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.”
The Office of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which was then headed by Loretta Lynch, currently the attorney general and head of the US Department of Justice, justified its jurisdiction by saying that some rentboy.com advertisers were in Brooklyn. An unanswered question is why Preet Bharara, who heads the US attorney’s office in Manhattan, with oversight of the Southern District of New York, did not prosecute the case.
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.
Following the October 7 hearing, Michael Tremonte, Hurant’s attorney, declined to make any comment.
William Dobbs, a gay civil libertarian who has closely followed the rentboy.com prosecution, attended the proceeding and condemned the government’s continuing effort to imprison Hurant, calling it a “completely sketchy, outrageous prosecution from a US attorney’s office that has done nothing on the chokehold death of Eric Garner… This whole thing is a black eye on this district and on Loretta Lynch too.”
©2016 Community News Group