Two years since the government first set their sights on the gay escort site, Rentboy.com CEO Jeffrey Hurant will face time behind bars.
Hurant pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution, and today U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie sentenced him to six months in prison and a $7,500 fine.
"The very thing that is illegal - there is no question it did a lot of good," said Brodie, pointing out that the sentence was necessary to send a message of deterrence to other escort services despite Hurant’s lawyers claiming he deserved no worse sentence than probation.
Last year Hurant admitted he broke the law by promoting “The exchange of sexual conduct in return for a fee” via the escort website. However, he also said he created the website to give the ability to participate in sex work in a safe way.
Under a plea deal Hurant agreed to appeal a prison sentence of two years or less. In a sentencing memorandum, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tyler Smith claimed prison time for Hurant would “promote respect for the law and the seriousness of the offense.”
Legal and civil rights activists gave accusations the harsh sentence was fueled by anti-gay bias.
Manhattan Democrat Senator Brad Hoylman wrote the case was problematic “because it harkens back to a dark chapter in our nation's history when the government used its vast resources to target and threaten LGBT adults by exposing their private consensual sexual activity.”
Letters also emerged from members of the community, including five New York CIty council members who signed a letter arguing “a harsh sentence will serve neither society nor the rehabilitation of Mr. Hurant.”
New York Democratic Congressmen Jerrold Nadler and Sean Patrick Maloney also wrote to the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, questioning if the agencies wasted time and resources pursuing Hurant, who had not harmed anyone.
Prior to Hurant’s arrest, Rentboy.com saw thousands of advertisers, 500,000 visitors a day, and about $2 million in revenue per year.