Gay Escort Service Guilty in Closely Watched Case


     BROOKLYN (CN) — A guilty plea Friday to promotion of prostitution brought an anticlimactic end to the prosecution of escort service Rentboy.com — a case condemned by civil-rights groups as a witch hunt targeting gays and the world’s oldest profession.
     “I’m guilty because I agreed to accept payment with advertisers and promoted their exchange of sexual activity for a fee,” Jeffrey Hurant, 51, said at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn this morning.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Levy accepted Hurant’s plea to promoting prostitution, and that of parent company, Easy Rent Systems Inc., to money laundering.
     Hurant and his staff were arrested and their Manhattan office raided by federal officials in August 2015.
     The website operator had initially pleaded not guilty after a grand jury handed down a three-count indictment in January.
     As part of his plea deal, Hurant has agreed not to appeal in exchange for a maximum two-year prison sentence. If Hurant does appeal, he could up to five years. He also could get three years of supervised release, a maximum fine of $290,000 and a $100 special fee.
     As for Easy Rent Boy Systems Inc., the guilty plea to money laundering means the corporation could face up to a five-year maximum probation, a $500,000 fine at minimum and up to twice its value at maximum. There also may be a $400 assessment, and the company will not be allowed to appeal.
     Before authorities shut it down, Rentboy.com got about 500,000 unique visitors each day, most of them from the United States. Prosecutors say the website took in at least $10 million in gross revenue.
     Hurant charged $300 per ad, and escorts were encouraged tout their penis size, build, indicate whether they had foreskin, and whether they preferred to have safe sex or bareback sex.
     Prosecutors said the website even allowed details about rates in the ads.
     Hurant’s employees allegedly monitored escorts’ ads and rejected them if they were too iffy.
     Such rejections were sometimes accompanied by language like: “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.”
     “If you describe a sex act to be performed in exchange for money, the authorities may use it as evidence in prosecuting you,” advertisers were advised, as quoted in the indictment.
     Hurant is due back in court on Feb. 2 to learn his fate from Judge Levy.

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