NEW YORK — The ex-CEO of what heralded itself as the “world’s largest male escort site” has been sentenced to six months in prison after a number of local city council members, state Democratic leaders and homosexual advocates asked a judge for leniency.
According to reports, more than 70 letters had been submitted to Brooklyn Judge Margo Brodie to assert that Rentboy site operator Jeffrey Hurant was a good person who was helping men avoid the exploitative aspects of sex work. Some believed that the punishment could be perceived to be purposeful targeting of homosexuals.
“[The case] 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,” Democratic Sen. Brad Hoylman told reporters.
Five homosexual members of the New York City Council also signed a letter contending that “a harsh sentence will serve neither society nor the rehabilitation of Mr. Hurant.”
Hurant, 52, was taken into custody in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the New York Police Department after it was discovered that he was operating an escort site out of his Union Square office. Investigators found that Rentboy had an estimated 500,000 visitors a day and had generated $10 million over a period of five years.
Hundreds of advertisers were reportedly involved with the site as well, and Hurant held an annual awards show for escorts, called “Hookies.”
Prosecutors considered the site to be an online brothel, pointing out that its pages included nude photos, and the escorts, who charged at least $150 an hour for their “services,” included descriptions of their physical features.
However, Hurant defended his site, arguing through his legal counsel that he had helped men get out of deplorable conditions for sex work. He also noted that he offered classes for escorts about safe sex practices, issued scholarships to workers and also gave money to support homosexual causes.
“Homeland Security’s involvement in the takedown, along with an absence of any allegations that Rentboy was a menace to society beyond simple prostitution—like engaging in human trafficking or exploiting minors—stirred anger and fear in the gay community,” the Associated Press also notes. “Activists questioned why the agency would single out Rentboy when other escort websites, gay or straight, continue to do business.”
In October, Hurant pleaded guilty to one count of promoting prostitution, as well as one count of money laundering, and was sentenced to six months behind bars on Wednesday.
“I disagree with the law I violated, [but] I am obliged to follow it,” he said again last week. “My company mitigated many of the dangers of sex work.”
Judge Brodie seemed to side with the homosexual advocates who had submitted letters on Hurant’s behalf, stating that while he must be punished for breaking the law, she thought the site operator had good intentions.
“The very thing that is illegal—there is no question it did a lot of good,” she said, according to NBC News. “I am convinced you started the site for a good purpose.”
But, “[a]lmost two decades of committing a crime—that can’t go unpunished,” Brodie advised.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, 7-8 reads, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification. That ye should abstain from fornication, that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor—not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God. … For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit.”