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May 03, 2017

Avalanche Of Supporters Says 'Don't Jail Rentboy's Jeffrey Hurant'

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Rentboy.com founder and CEO Jeffrey Hurant is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie on Friday, May 5, and in anticipation of that event, he and his attorneys have collected testimonials from dozens of high-profile supporters, including several elected officials, asking that Hurant not be imprisoned even though he has pled guilty to one count of "promoting prostitution" and one count of "money laundering" (which in this case means receiving revenues from supposedly illegal ads placed on the Rentboy site). Hurant's attorneys Michael Tremonte and Noam Biale have made some good arguments for a lighter sentence such as house arrest. After all, thanks to the Aug. 25, 2015, raid on Rentboy.com's offices by federal marshals from the office of acting Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and New York City police, Rentboy.com is out of business, its website shuttered by the feds, and more than $1.5 million in business revenues were seized from the company's and Hurant's various bank accounts—so it's not as if Hurant has much to go back to no matter what his sentence is. The public support for Hurant as his sentencing approaches has been overwhelming. His attorneys have filed with the court, as Exhibit A, a 137-page document collecting about 70 letters to Judge Brodie from Hurant's/Rentboy's friends and supporters from around the world asking for leniency on his behalf, including from five gay, lesbian or trangender New York City Councilmembers, as well as attorneys, university professors, journalists, heads of nonprofits that Hurant has assisted and/or donated to, leaders and members of gay rights organizations, musicians—and from the adult entertainment industry, Free Speech Coalition and Cybersocket's Morgan Sommer. Tremonte and Biale filed another interesting exhibit as well: Letters from U.S. Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) and Jerrold Nadler (NY-10) to then Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, taking them to task for mounting the Rentboy raid in the first place. "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. That does not appear to be the issue here," Maloney stated in his Feb. 22, 2016, letter. "There was no indication of exploitation, trafficking, or coercion on Rentboy.com. Yet, to my knowledge, Rentboy.com jas earned the distinction of being the only Internet-based site without any of these antecedent crimes to be targete4d by the Department of Homeland Security ('DHS'). Based on their 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." "The extremely public raid on Rentboy.com’s offices, and the homes of its employees, has been seen by many as an attack on the sexual proclivities of its users rather than on the alleged illegal activities of the website," Nadler stated in his letter of April 15, 2016. "As the New York Times wrote in an editorial on August 28, 2015, shortly following the raid, 'The criminal complaint is so saturated with sexually explicit details, it’s hard not to interpret it as an indictment of gay men being sexually promiscuous.' The potential role that anti-LGBTQ biases and attitudes may have played in this investigation and ongoing prosecution, as reflected in your offices’ work products and statements related to this matter is deeply troubling. If true, it is absolutely unacceptable." In that regard, one can't help but wonder about the "coincidence" that just 10 days before the feds' raid, Rentboy.com had announced its new Cash4Class scholarship: a $1,500 prize to a current male student who does sex work of any type—anything from porn to escorting and dancing—and who submits the best essay or video on "Why Going to School is a Part of Achieving My Dream." "According to the Student Sex Project, one in five students have considered doing sex work to pay for college," AVN reported in its article on the offer. "And, surprisingly, the study found that a greater number of male students reported they had helped pay for university by working in some form of sex industry... The Cash4Class scholarship isn't the first time Rentboy.com has conducted a Back to School campaign. In past years, the website has offered discounts on escort ads for students enrolled in a university, adult education, or license certification program. Another important exhibit attached to Hurant's sentencing memorandum is a letter from Dianne L. Heidke, a legal consultant, prior to the creation of Rentboy.com, advising Hurant of the legal pitfalls he might encounter with the project—mainly charges of facilitating prostitution and pornography—and how to operate the site so that those would not be a problem. But although Hurant, in his plea agreement of last October, had agreed that he would not "appeal or otherwise challenge a sentence with a term of 24 months or less of imprisonment," his government detractors are asking for substantially more prison time than that. The federal Probation and Pretrial Services System has recommended, in one part of its report, a sentence of 33 to 41 months, and in another, 30 to 37 months, claiming that the escorts who placed ads on Rentboy were Hurant's "victims"—"hundreds, if not thousands, of victims," according to the report.

 
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