Jeffrey Hurant, former CEO of the late gay escort website Rentboy.com, was sentenced to six months in prison and fined $7,500 at Brooklyn Federal District Court Wednesday. His sentence—reportedly less than half of the Government's recommended maximum—came with kind words from Judge Margo Brodie, who said Hurant had performed a vital, albeit illegal, service for the gay community.
"I am convinced you started this site for a good purpose," Brodie said, according to the NY Post.
"I struggled with sentencing of this case," she added. "It kept me up at night."
Founded in 1977 as an international classifieds page focused on male escorts, Rentboy allowed escorts to screen clients over phone and email before meeting up, creating a layer of safety, according to Hurant's supporters. Its closure left escorts with less reliable options like the websites Backpage and Craigslist, and street work.
Hurant and the six other defendants were arrested in August 2015, on charges of racketeering by promoting prostitution. The arrests came two weeks after Amnesty International proposed decriminalizing the sex trade, a move advocates say would make the industry safer. As Gothamist's Nathan Tempey reported, the timing of the arrests so soon after a major endorsement of decriminalization helped bolster the legalization movement.
"Because sex work is criminalized, many sex workers’ bodies are exposed to harm," health advocate Michael Tikili of Health Global Access Project told Gothamist at an action outside Brooklyn federal court following the arrests. "And [criminalization] also increases [HIV] infection rates globally by not allowing these individuals to operate within systems that are safe."
Jeffrey Hurant, former Rentboy CEO, was sentenced today. To me, this says all along the point was to shut down sex workers' ads. https://t.co/mXDkjlkgxb
— Melissa Gira Grant (@melissagira) August 2, 2017
Hurant said in court on Wednesday that, "I did my best to run a company that was doing good for people, not as a criminal racket."
Federal prosecutors argued that Hurant should be punished for profiting from illegal activity. From the NY Times:
In their court papers, federal prosecutors challenged Mr. Hurant’s account, saying that despite his claims of altruism, he still made a fortune working with pimps and escort agencies. The papers quoted some of Mr. Hurant’s emails, seized in their investigation. One, from a Rentboy employee, read, “This acct belongs to Attila … who brings in 10-12 boys/year to pimp out here.”
Hurant's attorney, Michael Tremonte, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. He told the NY Post, "Although we are very disappointed that he has been sentenced to a term of incarceration, we are also very grateful to the court for acknowledging Rentboy.com was conceived for great intentions and for acknowledging all the good it has done for the community."
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment.
The NYPD arrested 1,790 people for prostitution in 2014, and another 732 for patronizing prostitutes, according to the NYPD. That's down from 3,481 and 1,311 arrested in 2007. The NYPD announced this February that it would shift its focus away from arresting sex workers, and focus more on pimps, johns and traffickers. This approach has been criticized by sex workers and trafficking victims, who argue that it still puts them in harms way, because precision policing is seldom precise in practice.