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Charges Dropped Against|Six Ex-Rentboy Employees

BROOKLYN (CN) - Federal prosecutors dropped charges against six former employees of the gay online escort service - with a caveat.

The Department of Justice dropped the charges without prejudice, meaning the charges could be refiled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom signed the dismissals on Feb. 12.

That leaves the site's owner, founder and former CEO Jeffrey Hurant the last-standing defendant in the federal government's claim that the site was nothing more than an online brothel and a front for money laundering.

"One left," gay activist Bill Dobbs wrote in an email announcing the dismissals late Wednesday night. "Let's hope the U.S. Attorney ends this much-criticized case by dismissing charges against the remaining defendant."

Hurant's attorney Michael Tremonte did not respond to a request for comment Thursday morning. The Department of Justice declined comment.

The Department of Homeland Security raided the site's Manhattan offices last August and hauled in computers, company records, $1.4 million, Hurant and six employees: Clint Calero, Sean Belman, Diana Milagros Mattos, Edward Estanol, Shane Lukas and Marco Soto Decker.

Charges against the latter six were dropped.

Hurant, 50, was indicted in January on one count of violating the Travel Act and two counts of money laundering after his arrest in August.

He was released on $350,000 bond, and has defended his enterprise as perfectly legal. He pleaded not guilty last week during a brief hearing, and said nothing to the throng of reporters afterward.

Civil rights and gay rights groups have protested each time Hurant appeared in court, claiming the government is conducting a "witch hunt" against the LGBT community and the world's oldest profession.

They circled the street in front of the courthouse, chanting "Stand up, fight back !" while carrying signs stating: "Sex work is not a crime" and "Criminalization = dehumanization." Similar protests were staged in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The Sex Workers Project calls the case "a gross misuse of law enforcement time and funding that will cause more harm to vulnerable communities."

Hurant founded the website in 1997 under the business name Easy Rent System. It has earned at least $10 million in gross revenue from the 500,000 unique visitors it would get each day, authorities say.

Hurant and his staff charged advertisers up to nearly $300 per ad, according to the indictment, which says clients were encouraged to advertise their penis size, build, indicate whether they had foreskin, and whether they preferred to have safe sex or bareback sex.

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