BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | The federal government has asked that Jeffrey Hurant, the chief executive of rentboy.com, be sent to prison for 15 to 21 months when he is sentenced on July 21 in federal court in downtown Brooklyn. [Editor's note: Subsequent to the publication of this story, Hurant's sentencing was adjourned until August 2. On July 20, the defense filed a supplement to its April sentencing memorandum, and the judge gave the government an opportunity to respond.]
“In the plea agreement, the government agreed to seek a one-level reduction based on the case being disposed of as to both defendants simultaneously,” Tyler Smith, the assistant US attorney who prosecuted the case against the gay escort site, wrote in a July 16 sentencing memorandum in reference to charges against both Hurant and the business he owned. “The guidelines range of imprisonment should be 15 to 21 months.”
In October of last year, Hurant pleaded guilty to one count of promoting prostitution and one count of money laundering on behalf of his business. The government has seized roughly $1.5 million that it said were the proceeds from the business.
The government argued that prison time would “promote respect for the law and the seriousness of the offense,” Smith wrote.
“The defendant unambiguously operated one of the largest prostitution enterprises ever prosecuted,” Smith wrote, saying that Hurant flouted the law, his claim of having consulted with attorneys on the legality of the business notwithstanding, and knew his advertisers were selling sex for money.
The government argued that rentboy.com earned roughly $10 million since it opened in 1997 and that Hurant earned a salary of $300,000 a year. Smith wrote that a prison sentence was necessary to keep other escort websites from continuing to operate.
“While the arrests in this case were covered by the press, that press has done nothing to deter the operators of prostitution websites,” he wrote. “A search for escort advertisements on the Internet turns up site after site that offer fare little different from Rentboy.com. Indeed, Rentboy.com’s main competitor is still in operation. Without actual punishment in this case, the operators of those websites will likely conclude that in the unlikely event of their conviction, they can expect only a slap on the wrist; hardly the type of punishment that would dissuade someone from the significant money that can be obtained through this type of criminal activity.”
The government and Hurant have not agreed on a sentence, and Margo Brodie, the judge who will sentence him, would not be bound by such an agreement in any case. Hurant has agreed that he will not “appeal or otherwise challenge a sentence with a term of 24 months or less of imprisonment,” Michael Tremonte, Hurant’s attorney, wrote in an April 29 sentencing memorandum.
In his April 29 filing, Hurant argued that he should not be imprisoned at all. The defense conceded that Hurant had violated the law, but it presented him as a highly ethical and accomplished business owner and rentboy.com as an unalloyed good for escorts, the clients they served, and the LGBTQ community.
The site’s Manhattan offices were raided in August 2015 by the US Department of Homeland Security and Hurant and six employees were arrested. Charges against the six employees were dropped last year. The case is being prosecuted by the Office of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which is in downtown Brooklyn.
The raid and arrests sparked protests in four cities, including New York City, and condemnations from LGBTQ 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.”
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