Jeffrey Hurant. | FACEBOOK.COM
Lawyers for the founder and chief executive of rentboy.com, the gay escort site shuttered by the federal government in 2015, are arguing that their client should be given a “non-incarceratory sentence” when he goes before a judge in Brooklyn federal court on May 5. [Editor's note: Upon request of prosecutors, sentencing was adjourned until July 21 to give the them time to respond to the defendant’s filing.]
“We respectfully submit that a non-incarceratory sentence for Jeffrey Hurant is sufficient but not greater than necessary to achieve the sentencing purposes,” Michael Tremonte, Hurant’s attorney, wrote in an April 29 sentencing memorandum. “Because the prosecution has put [rentboy.com] out of business, we respectfully submit that no further sanction is necessary for the corporate entity.”
Hurant pleaded guilty to one count of promoting prostitution and, on behalf of the business, one count of money laundering during an appearance in Brooklyn federal court this past October. The government recommended a prison term in the range of 15 to 21 months. The government has already seized roughly $1.5 million that it said were proceeds from the business and held in various bank accounts.
While the government and Hurant have not agreed on a sentence and Margo Brodie, the judge who will sentence him, would not be bound by such an agreement, Hurant has agreed that he will not “appeal or otherwise challenge a sentence with a term of 24 months or less of imprisonment,” Tremonte wrote.
Perhaps complicating the sentencing, the US Probation and Pretrial Services System, which is part of the federal court system, has recommended a longer sentence in its pre-sentence report. While that report is not public, it was quoted in Tremonte’s memorandum and in a second document that he filed objecting to parts of the pre-sentence report.
Probation recommended 33 to 41 months in one part of its report and 30 to 37 months in another. It justified the longer prison term, in part, by characterizing the escorts who advertised on rentboy.com as Hurant’s victims, saying, “Rentboy.com had hundreds, if not thousands, of victims,” according to a quote from the report cited in Tremonte’s memorandum.
“However, Probation also noted that the government had not identified any victims of the offense,” Tremonte wrote.
The website’s Manhattan offices were raided in August 2015 by the US Department of Homeland Security, and Hurant and six employees were arrested. Charges against the six employees were dropped last year.
Picketers outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn during a February 2016 court appearance by Jeffrey Hurant. | GAY CITY NEWS
Hurant was indicted on one count of violating the federal Travel Act and two counts of violating a federal money laundering statute. The Travel Act, which was enacted in 1961, makes certain state crimes a violation of federal law when they are committed across state lines or by using a phone, email, snail mail, or other forms of interstate commerce. The underlying state charges in the case were promoting prostitution and facilitating a crime by a person under 16.
The raid and arrests sparked protests in four cities, including New York, and condemnations from LGBTQ 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.”
While Tremonte’s memorandum conceded that Hurant had violated the law, it presented him as a highly ethical and accomplished business owner and rentboy.com as an unalloyed good for escorts, the clients they served, and the LGBTQ community. Hurant offered escorts classes on managing their finances, on staying safe, and on sexual health. He awarded scholarships to escorts who wanted to go to college and raised funds for LGBTQ community groups.
Tremonte filed roughly 70 letters that were addressed to Brodie from Hurant’s family, friends, escorts who used the site, rentboy.com employees, members of the New York City Council, heads of non-profit agencies and advocacy groups, and public health researchers and experts who testified to Hurant’s good character or to the site’s value in safely linking escorts to their clients while not allowing the exploitation of escorts that can sometimes be an aspect of sex work. At least two escorts wrote that rentboy.com freed them from exploitative situations and allowed them to run their own careers.
The US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which is headquartered in Brooklyn and is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.