The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) today raided the Manhattan headquarters of Rentboy.com, which bills itself as the “original and world’s largest male escort site.”
CEO Jeffrey Hurant and six other employees were arrested based on a criminal complaint enumerating their alleged misconduct. Law enforcement authorities also seized their homes, bank accounts, and $1.4 million.
Charged with conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promoting prostitution, seven accused persons are facing five years in prison and a quarter of a million dollar fine. They will face a jurist in the U.S. district Court for the Eastern District of New York.
The Justice Department issued a simultaneous press release announcing that "Rentboy.com attempted to present a veneer of legality, when in fact this Internet brothel made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution," quoting Acting United States Attorney Kelly T. Currie.
The document paid tribute to the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration and the New York District Attorney's Office for their help in bringing down the popular escort advertising site.
"Rentboy.com profited from the promotion of prostitution despite their claim that their advertisements were not for sexual services," said NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton.
But "thanks to the detectives, agents, and prosecutors of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District involved in this investigation, these individuals will be held accountable for running this racket."
The individuals arrested along with CEO Jeffrey Hurant were Michael Sean Belman, Clint Calero, Edward Lorenz Estanol, Shane Lukas, Marco Soto Decker, and Diana Milagros Mattos. By yesterday afternoon, most were released on bond.
RentBoy.com has marketed itself as “the world’s largest male escort site.” Authorities agreed, alleging in the complaint that Rentboy.com is “a worldwide social networking site of the male sex industry, where members pay fees to list and buy services.”
According to reports released yesterday, Rentboy has more than 10,500 male users and is located in over 2,100 cities worldwide. Subscribers can find a rentboy or a masseur by searching through different countries and cities, as well as by age, rate, talents and physical features.
The government announced on Tuesday that they would be taking steps to bring the sites down and bring an end to the services provided by rent boy clients. As of yesterday, the site was still operating, but gay media sites such as str8upgayporn were going viral with discussion and debate over the law enforcement activity.
The arrests consumed and was dominating twitter accounts of the gay porn industry as well. Meanwhile, the government justified the use of multiple federal agencies, arguing that since Rentboy operated in foreign countries around the globe, numerous resources were required.
Columnist Chris Sosa went on the Huffington Post, and called the raid a transparent attack on LGBT rights. He wrote “The site has operated within public view for many years. This is not a secretive, dark web enterprise hidden from the public eye. It's a popular online destination that allows escorts to set their own rules and rates. RentBoy's platform gives its escorts a degree of agency that sex workers forced to walk the street or be managed by a pimp simply do not have.”
Founded in 1997 by Jeff Davids and Melanie Nolan in 1997, their Wikipedia site suggested that their offices “employed ten people and hosted 40,000 escort profiles.” This year, they launched a scholarship program for younger sex workers that would help reduce a social stigma.
Rentboy.com also hosted an annual awards show for escorts called the Hookies, the complaint says. Asked by an undercover investigator who went to the 2015 Hookies how the show started, Hurant responded, "Have you ever had sex with anyone and it was so good you had to tell someone? That's what this is about," the complaint alleges
US Attorney Office Speaks
The United States Attorney's Office issued a statement stating the RentBoy.com employees were charged with "conspiring to violate the Travel Act promoting prostitution." The report goes on to read:
"Rentboy.com is a male escort advertising site founded in 1997 which hosts thousands of paid advertisements. While the site has disclaimers stating that the advertisements are for companionship and not sexual services, Rentboy.com is designed primarily for advertising illegal prostitution. The website charges subscribers a minimum monthly fee of $59.95 and up to several hundred dollars to advertise sexual services. Once the fee is paid, subscribers can select from a number of categories created by Rentboy.com the sexual services they are willing to perform and the price charged. Subscribers can also include their physical descriptions and provide links to another website where their sexual services are rated by prior customers. Between 2010 and 2015, Rentboy.com had over $10 million in gross proceeds."
HSI Acting Special Agent in Charge Sorge stated, “The facilitation and promotion of prostitution offenses across state lines and international borders is a federal crime made even more egregious when it’s blatantly advertised by a global criminal enterprise."
Also in this issue: Publisher’s Editorial condemning Rentboy Raid