It may be the end of the line for Rentboy.com after federal authorities from the Department of Homeland Security and the New York Police Department raided the company’s Manhattan headquarters on Tuesday and shut down the popular escort and masseur services website.
According to the New York Post, seven people, including Rentboy.com CEO Jeffrey Hurant and six other high-level staffers, were arrested during the raid at the company’s headquarters, located at 14th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan’s Union Square neighborhood. All were charged with conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promoting prostitution across state lines, and were scheduled to appear in court later in the day.
The Post reports that the company’s website was operating as late as 1:10 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, but has since been shut down, with the exception of Rentboy.com’s contact page. Attempts by Metro Weekly to reach its East Coast and West Coast offices for comment were unsuccessful. In the complaint, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York alleged that while Rentboy.com has disclaimers stating that its paid advertisements are for companionship and not sexual services, the site is designed primarily to promote illegal prostitution. Subscribers, located throughout the country and the world, pay a monthly minimum fee of $59.95 and up to several hundred to advertise escort or masseur services. Once a connection is made, federal authorities allege that the escorts engage in sexual services for money. According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Rentboy.com had over $10 million in gross proceeds between 2010 and 2015.
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,” Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie said in an official statement. The government also served warrants authorizing the seizure of more than $1.4 million from six different bank accounts linked to the service.
“As alleged, Rentboy.com profited from the promotion of prostitution despite their claim that their advertisements were not for sexual services,” added New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton. “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.”
If found guilty, the Rentboy.com staffers could each face up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.
The National LGBTQ Task Force issued a statement criticizing the raid and the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office’s focus on cracking down on sex work instead of other priorities.
“There are so many other important investigations that federal resources should be focused on right now instead of sex workers,” said Russell Roybal, deputy executive director of the Task Force. “Take the appalling murders of trans women of color — now at epidemic proportions across our nation. Sex work is a fact of life — it has been, it is and it will be as long as human beings are around. Criminalization puts the livelihoods, health and lives of sex workers in jeopardy. It’s time for our federal justice system to get its priorities straight and it’s time once and for all to decriminalize sex work.”