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August 02, 2017

Rentboy CEO Jeffrey Hurant Sentenced to 6 Months in Prison

BROOKLYN, NY—In a courtroom filled with his supporters, Rentboy.com's Jeffrey Hurant was sentenced earlier today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York to six months in federal prison for being the owner of the prominent gay escort website. The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie, who noted on the record that she had received letters from many users of the site praising Hurant’s decency, but also said that she couldn’t ignore Hurant's illegal activities which prosecutors had claimed grossed nearly $10 million in the last five years. "The guidelines range of imprisonment should be 15 to 21 months," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tyler Smith, who prosecuted the case, had written in a July 16 sentencing memorandum, noting that in a previously negotiated plea agreement, the government had agreed to seek just a one-level reduction in the government guidelines for offenses of this type. During sentencing, Hurant, in asking for leniency, told the judge that while he thought the prostitution laws were wrong, his bust and subsequent treatment by the legal system had taught him that he needed to try to change such laws instead of flout them. "I believe that consensual sex work between adults should be decriminalized and destigmatized," Hurant said as he left the courtroom. "But that hasn’t happened yet. My business was ultimately illegal, but it shouldn’t have been. We must fearlessly fight for the rights to allow consensual adults to choose what they do with their bodies." Among Hurant's supporters were five gay New York City Council members, who had stated in a letter that "a harsh sentence will serve neither society nor the rehabilitation of Mr. Hurant." Similar letters were written by two New York Congressman, Jerrold Nader and Sean Patrick Maloney, who called Hurant's prosecution "a waste of money" and noted that Hurant had hurt no one with his "crimes." Indeed, Hurant had long claimed that he had created the website so sex workers could practice their profession more safely, and even Judge Brodie seemed to agree. "The very thing that is illegal, there is no question it did a lot of good," she said during sentencing. Even 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." Hurant had agreed last October to enter a plea to one count of promoting prostitution and one count of money laundering on behalf of his business, which at its height had half a million visitors per day. Following its original raid on the Rentboy.com offices in August of 2015, the government had seized nearly $1.5 million that it claimed were the proceeds from the business, and to add insult to injury, Judge Brodie also fined Hurant $7,500. One source that was unhappy that Hurant had received a reduced sentence was the ultra-right-wing "news" site The Daily Caller. "[T]he case has captured the attention of legal and civil rights activists who say a harsh judgement would be inappropriate given the case’s sensitivity in the LGBT community," wrote The Daily Caller's David Krayden. "Getting tough with the call-guy manager is supposedly wrong 'because it harkens back to a dark chapter in our nation’s history when the government used its vast resources to target and threaten LGBT adults by exposing their private consensual sexual activity,' according to Democratic state Sen. Sen. Brad Hoylman."

 
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