BROOKLYN (CN) – The former CEO of the gay escort website Rentboy.com was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on charges of promoting prostitution and money laundering.
The 17-page indictment against Jeffrey Hurant, filed in Brooklyn Federal Court, also names Easy Rent Systems Inc. as the front for the controversial website.
The indictment alleges that Hurant, also known as “Jeffrey Davids,” pimped out his clients who signed up to turn a buck selling their bodies. Feds want to seize nearly a million dollars raked in from his alleged activities.
The site, founded in 1997, was shut down by authorities in August 2015 after allegations that escorts paid fees to advertise their sexual services on the site.
Several thousand escort advertisements were posted on the site in 2015 alone, and it got about 500,000 unique visitors each day, prosecutors say. More than 70 percent of the site’s visitors were in the United States.
The site pulled in $10 million in gross revenue, the indictment states.
Escorts who signed up to advertise their services were allowed to disclose their penis size and their build and indicate whether they had foreskin and whether they preferred safe sex or bareback sex, according to the indictment.
Rentboy also allegedly let them detail their rates in U.S. dollars per hour.
Advertisements went from $59 to nearly $300, with a “powerboost” to move their ads to the top of clients’ searches, prosecutors allege.
Employees would monitor escorts’ ads and reject them if they smelled too much like prostitution, and would send out e-mail notices such as, “your text has not been approved. All texts need to avoid saying you will have sex for money, since that is illegal in most places in the world,” the indictment states.
The site also allowed escorts to advertise their physical attributes, but with a caveat: “If you describe a sex act to be performed in exchange for money, the authorities may use it as evidence in prosecuting you,” according to the indictment.
Workers at the site even went so far as to spice up ads to drum up clientele, prosecutors say. In one cited example, one alleged escort was told in an email, “Hey, I took the liberty of spicing up your RB ad – we need you WORKING, babyyy!”
The two-count indictment also says the site did business with men named Viktor Berki, Andras Vass and Gabor Acs, who lured Hungarian men into the U.S. and forced them “into sexual slavery.” Vass was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Berki and Acs still await trial.
Rentboy also failed to verify ages of those who advertised on its site, especially in Asia since at least 2006, according to the indictment.
Protesters rallied last September outside the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse to defend the website after news dropped that seven RentBoy officers faced federal charges.
Gay civil rights activist William Dobbs decried the indictment on Wednesday.
“This is a crazy prosecution,” Dobbs said. “It’s like something out of the last century. Let’s hope the U.S. Attorney lets the Rentboy prosecution drop and works a lot harder on the Eric Garner NYPD chokehold case.”
Garner was shown in a viral video being put in a fatal chokehold by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in 2014 for selling loose cigarettes near the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
Garner can be seen gasping, “I can’t breathe,” at least nine times in the video.
The officer was never arrested or charged, and the grand jury’s deliberations on Staten Island remain sealed by a judge’s order, spurring the nationwide “Black Lives Matter” rally cry over police brutality against minorities.
Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed Garner’s death, filed suit last October in Bronx Supreme Court claiming the city tried to poison him with rat poison in jail after he was arrested during the tussle.
Hurant’s attorney Michael Tremonte of Sher Tremonte in New York called the government’s charges against his client “unwarranted.”
“He ran his business openly for nearly 20 years, and it makes no sense to single him out for criminal prosecution. Mr. Hurant plans to contest the charges and looks forward to full vindication at trial,” Tremonte said.
- Ex-Fannie Mae Chief Fights Fraud Charges
- Arizona Limits on Campaigning Judges Upheld