BROOKLYN — The former owner of Rentboy.com, who pleaded guilty in October to promoting prostitution, will be sentenced by a federal judge on Friday.
In a sentencing memorandum filed last week, Jeffrey Hurant’s attorneys argued that he should be given a “non-incarceratory sentence.” Currently, Hurant is free on bond.
Last October, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Levy accepted Hurant’s guilty plea to one count of promoting prostitution and, on behalf of the business he also founded, one count of money laundering.
Hurant operated the gay hookup site in the open for about two decades.
Prosecutors have recommended a prison term for Hurant in the range of 15 to 21 months. U.S. authorities have already seized about $1.5 million that they claim was laundered money from Hurant's company, Easy Rent Systems Inc.
In the memorandum, Hurant attorneys offered scores of letters from family, friends, escorts who used the site, Rentboy.com employees, heads of advocacy groups and public health researchers and experts who testified to Hurant’s good character or to the site’s value.
Some said that safely linking escorts to clients while not allowing the exploitation of escorts provided a benefit.
Last year, the Free Speech Coalition called the indictment against Hurant “egregious and steeped in the outdated biases about gay sex and sex work.”
“Those of us who have worked in the adult industry for any significant length of time are familiar with loaded phrases [like “promoting prostitution” and “money laundering”], and how loosely law enforcement interprets them. Throughout our history, they have been used to chill speech, to push workers into the shadows, and to remind all of us — adult filmmakers, performers, dancers, retailers, escorts and activists — that the government may throw us in jail and seize our assets (as they did with Hurant) on the flimsiest of pretexts, merely by invoking these judicial maledictions.”
New York-based activist William Dobbs, who has closely been following the case since the August 2015 raid by federal agents on Rentboy.com’s Manhattan offices, told XBIZ today that “when the feds raided Rentboy.com they got a surprise — courthouse protests, lots of flack and even a critical New York Times editorial.”
“The Rentboy.com bust is just one battle in a larger war on sexual civil liberties that’s still going strong in the 21st century,” Dobbs said. “Let’s hope the judge takes a close look at this crazy prosecution and sees there’s little need for further punishment.”
Last week’s sentencing memorandum includes an attached letter to the Justice Department from U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, who questioned taxpayer resources spent to shut down a website such as Rentboy.com.
“I do not question the need for strong enforcement in prostitution cases where there is even a hint of minors being exploited, where human trafficking plays a role, or where there is evidence of coercion,” Maloney wrote to the Justice Department last year. “That does not appear to be the issue here.
“There was no indication of exploitation, trafficking, or coercion on Rentboy.com. Yet to my knowledge, Rentboy.com has earned the distinction of being the only Internet-based site without any of these antecedent crimes to be targeted by the Department of Homeland Security.
“Based on their own prosecutorial work product, I am deeply concerned that your investigators were more motivated by the nature and orientation of the sexual activity facilitated by Rentboy.com than whatever unremarkable offenses the website’s operators may have assisted,” Maloney wrote.
Another congressman, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, also questioned the actions to prosecute Hurant and his business in a letter sent to the Justice Department.
“Sex workers in this country are often subjected to violence and abuse,” Nadler said in the letter to the Justice Department. “LGBTQ sex workers face and elevated level of abuse, and many advocates have pointed out that actions like the Rentboy.com raid have the effect of forcing sex work deeper underground, where workers may not be for the protections that Rentboy.com provided.”
“Our government must not take actions to drive the hard work of the advocates and leader in the LGBTQ community backward to a time pre-Lawrence v. Texas, when gay sex could be criminalized, and send a message that gay sex is somehow taboo.”
To date, prosecutors and Hurant haven’t agreed to a sentence and the federal judge who will sentence him wouldn’t be bound by such an agreement
Hurant has agreed that he will not “appeal or otherwise challenge a sentence with a term of 24 months or less of imprisonment,” his attorneys wrote in a brief.
In his indictment, prosecutors said that male escorts paid at least $59.95 per month and up to several hundred dollars to advertise on Rentboy.com, which generated more than $10 million from 2010 to 2015.
Before authorities shut the website and offices down, Rentboy.com reportedly lured about 500,000 unique visitors each day.
Hurant charged advertisers up to about $300 per ad, according to the indictment. Advertisers were encouraged to publish their penis size, build, indicate whether they had foreskin and whether they preferred to have safe sex or bareback sex.
The Rentboy.com domain changed hands last year after it was seized by the government. Today, the Rentboy.com site offers click-through links.