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Feds want prison time for escort website CEO

Brooklyn federal prosecutors on Monday called for prison time for Jeffrey Hurant, the owner of the online gay-escort advertising service rentboy.com whose supporters have claimed was unfairly singled out for promotion of prostitution charges in 2015 because it featured gay sex.

Hurant, 51, who is to be sentenced Friday, has asked for no jail because his business promoted an “image of positivity and pride in gay sexuality,” but prosecutors said a $10 million gross since 2010 made it “one of the largest prostitution enterprises” ever charged and made Hurant rich and famous.

“His role as Rentboy.com’s CEO was anything but humble,” the government said in a new sentencing memo filed with U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie. “ . . . Hurant made over $300,000 annually from Rentboy.com, a sum of money that any number of criminals would envy.”

The website operated openly for nearly 20 years, and included ads in which escorts listed prices and sex acts they were willing to engage in, before Hurant and his employees were charged with promoting prostitution in 2015.

The government later dismissed charges against employees, and Hurant and his company pleaded guilty. Sentencing guidelines recommend 15 to 21 months, prosecutors say.

Hurant, in a sentencing letter filed in May, cited multiple factors in favor of leniency, including consultations with lawyers to try to keep his business legal, trends toward decriminalization of sex workers, his site’s beneficial impacts — such as eliminating pimps from gay-sex transactions and prohibiting underage escorts — and efforts to look out for escorts’ welfare.

But prosecutors said no lawyer ever told Hurant promoting prostitution through ads was legal, only that prosecution was unlikely if he could “obfuscate” his site’s true purpose, and that although the site made middlemen less necessary, it didn’t ban them.

“It continued to deal with pimps and escort agencies until it was closed,” prosecutors argued.

Hurant’s company, which pleaded guilty to money laundering, is now shut down. But the government said rentboy.com’s largest competitor is still in business, and told the judge the sentence needed to send a message to other escort sites.

“Without actual punishment in this case,” prosecutors said, “the operators of those websites will likely conclude that . . . they can expect only a slap on the wrist, hardly the type of punishment that would dissuade someone from the significant money that can be obtained through this type of criminal activity.”

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