As Gay City News was going to print on February 17, the newspaper learned that charges against six employees of rentboy.com who were arrested last summer along with the website's owner, Jeffrey Hurant, have been dismissed.
“That’s good news and, of course, relief for those six defendants,” said William Dobbs, a gay civil libertarian who has been involved in organizing protests over the prosecutions. “Let’s hope the US Attorney’s Office sees clear to dismiss the much-criticized prosecution of Jeffrey Hurant.”
The US Department of Homeland Security raided the offices of the gay escort site, which was founded by Hurant in 1997, last August, and agents seized computers and records. Hurant and six employees were arrested and charged with violating the Travel Act, a 1961 federal statute that makes certain state crimes violations of federal law when those crimes are committed across state lines or by using the phone, the mail, or other means of interstate commerce. The underlying crimes were promoting prostitution in the third and fourth degrees, which are a D felony and a misdemeanor, respectively, under New York State law.
The raid and arrests sparked protests in four cities, including New York, and condemnations from LGBT groups. The New York Times editorial page called it “somewhat baffling… that taking down a website that operated in plain sight for nearly two decades suddenly became an investigative priority for the Department of Homeland Security and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.”
On January 27, Hurant was indicted on one count of violating the Travel Act and two counts of violating a federal money laundering statute that makes it illegal to use the proceeds from illegal activity.
On February 12, the Office of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which is headquartered in Brooklyn, moved to dismiss the charges against Hurant's six employees “without prejudice.” The dismissal documents were posted on the federal court's website on February 17.
Without prejudice means the US attorney has not surrendered the right to refile charges.
Defense attorneys for the six employees did not immediately return calls seeking comment.