Sex Trafficking

The Official Indictment of Rentboy.com's Founder Will Infuriate You

Human trafficking issues are raised to make site operators look bad, but the charges don't match.

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Kevin Hurant

Five months after arresting the chief executive officer and several employees of Manhattan-based Rentboy.com, a site that hosted men offering escort services to other men around the world, the Eastern District of New York has finally gotten federal indictments via a grand jury.

The indictments are only against founder and CEO Jeffrey Hurant and the company, Easy Rent Systems Inc., which controlled Rentboy.com. None of the other employees have been indicted, but a spokesperson told Reuters that criminal complaints against former employees are pending (one assumes, after they agree to plea deals in exchange for providing ammunition against Hurant).

I'll attach the full 17-page indictment at the bottom, but I've got plenty of observations about the contents. There are three charges in the indictment. The first is promotion of prostitution against Hurant. Hurant is accused of running a business enterprise that violates New York's prostitution laws. But yes, this is a federal indictment.  The U.S. attorneys are invoking the federal Travel Act, which allows the Department of Justice to turn certain state-level crimes like gambling, prostitution, bribery, and arson into federal crimes if it involves interstate or international communication. The second and third charges are money laundering conspiracy and money laundering charges for obviously taking money to host the escort ads at Rentboy.com. Those are the only charges in the indictment. This will become relevant as I explain the actual content included in the indictment.

Some things to note:

That Rentboy.com prohibited text advertising sex for money is presented as evidence of promotion of prostitution. The indictment notes that escort advertisements in advance and told escorts they could not actually offer sex for money, because that was illegal. What they could offer was their time in exchange for money. That Rentboy.com was advising its clients that they could not advertise prostitution and warned them whenever there were police anti-prostitution activities in their area is apparently proof that they were promoting prostitution. At one point, in response to police actions in Miami, Rentboy.com warned "ESCORTING IS LEGAL as long as you are offering your time and companionship, or non-sexual massage in exchange for money. OFFERING SEX FOR MONEY IS ILLEGAL. You cannot offer sexual services in exchange for money."

None of us are naïve about what Rentboy.com actually did. Clearly the clients it hosted often provided sex for money. Nevertheless, it is telling that the indictment puts such an emphasis on how Rentboy.com tried to make sure its clients were not advertising prostitution essentially as proof that Rentboy knew that prostitution was going on.

The indictment attempts to tie Rentboy.com to human trafficking cases, despite no human trafficking charges. When Rentboy.com's offices were initially raided, the initial complaint gave no indication that anything non-consensual was happening through Rentboy.com's advertisements that Rentboy.com knew about. There was no implication of human trafficking or forced participation. The absence of such claims in an environment where police and prosecutors are quick to insist (often inaccurately) that women are being trafficked against their will for heterosexual prostitution was telling. As a result, critics of the Department of Justice's behavior (myself included) blasted a crackdown and arrests for behavior that all appeared completely consensual and prosecution that appeared on the surface to be driven by puritanical attitudes toward sexual interactions between men, complete with lurid descriptions of sexual practices.

Apparently this criticism did not go unnoticed by the attorney's office. Obviously an order went out to find any evidence that Rentboy.com might have facilitated any sort of non-consensual human trafficking. Between the period where Rentboy.com was raided and yesterday's indictment, Florida saw a very high-profile forced gay sex trafficking case. Three men stand accused of luring men from Hungary to the United States and forcing them into sex work. It's a very serious, horrifying case. One man has already been convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

According to the indictment, these men advertised their victims on Rentboy.com (and elsewhere). Rentboy.com does not stand accused of knowing that these men were being trafficked or participating in the trafficking in any way. Hurant is not charged with violating any human trafficking laws. The kidnappers met their victims through a completely different site. It's a transparent attempt at guilt by association. The indictment notes that one employee (apparently not Hurant) said in an email, upon hearing about the sex trafficking arrests, that he highly doubted the victims were sex slaves. What does this personal opinion have to do with the actual charges against Hurant? Very little.

Additionally, the indictment has a lengthy section criticizing Rentboy's less than stellar handling of possibly underage male escorts in advertising originating from Asian countries. I don't want to dismiss the concerns here, because if these accusations are true, the company, at Hurant's and managers' urging, did not adequately apply their own standards for proof of age for escort ads originating from Asian countries. One email (the indictment doesn't make it clear who sent it) said "In Asia ok to approve them … unless you see a baby … :)"

So, that's not very good, and yet the indictment fails to provide any actual evidence that ads for underage escorts appeared on the site, and again, neither Hurant nor Rentboy.com are facing any human trafficking charges, though it wouldn't surprise me if the DOJ were trying to hunt some of these escorts down for proof that they were minors.

The DOJ wants a payday. The final four pages of the indictment list everything the U.S. attorney's office wants to seize and keep from Rentboy.com. It includes $71,000 taken from Rentboy.com's, office, about $228,000 from four different bank accounts (including Hurant's personal bank account), approximately $1.2 million from two Ameritrade accounts held by Hurant and Easy Rent Systems, and ownership of the Rentboy.com Internet domain name.

Read the indictment below and responses by lawyers for Rentboy.com here. Also be sure to read Elizabeth Nolan Brown's recent Reason cover story about how the war on sex trafficking is becoming the new war on drugs.

Rentboy Indictment

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32 responses to “The Official Indictment of Rentboy.com's Founder Will Infuriate You

  1. Am I the only one who thinks its completely appropriate for a Justice Department that fucks people in the ass, on command and for money, to get the Rentboy.com domain?

    1. Ibwas wondering if they will continue to operate it, like the IRS did with the Atlanta strip club ( The Gold Club, I think).

      1. The two of you missed your opportunity to demonstrate your diplomatic skills. The game is full now. jerks.

        This is going to be a FYTW trial, just like Bernie Von Nauthaus.

        1. And I’ve got a first class seat.

          The only thing missing is popcorn.

        2. I am amused by the fact that the Sultan trashmnstr of the Ottomans didn’t get Turkey (who the hell named it Turkey and not the Ottoman Empire???).

  2. “That Rentboy.com was advising its clients that they could not advertise prostitution and warned them whenever there were police anti-prostitution activities in their area is apparently proof that they were promoting prostitution.”

    The fact they were telling people who used their site when there were anti-prostituton stings in the area, actually is pretty compelling evidence they knew they were helping prostitutes. It’s just that prostitution shouldn’t be illegal.

    No dumb shit in this complaint is going to infuriate me more than the fact that it’s even possible to jail people for selling sex for money.

    1. How is this different than mapping drunk driver checkpoints or signaling speed traps?

      They aren’t the military working with classified information, are they? (If one can even count that such a thing is required… which I don’t think it is.)

      Warning someone, who isn’t already being looked for with warrant, that 5 O is prowling shouldn’t be evidence of anything other than free speech.

    2. The fact they were telling people who used their site when there were anti-prostituton stings in the area, actually is pretty compelling evidence they knew they were helping prostitutes.

      If this is the case, there is compelling evidence that every hospital in the country that has a compliance program knows they are committing fraud and abuse.

      When I tell my peeps “No, you can’t buy referrals from docs”, that should be used against us?

      1. They’re an organization that hooks people up with hot young men and then warns those hot young men when there is a prostitution sting in the area.

        “Oh yeah, we’re totally not facilitating prostitution though.”

        1. Compliance with the law is evidence of breaking the law comrade!

        2. Do you even Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, bro?

          Actually it’d be interesting if they pulled in DHS for the raid partly in order to generate federal charges which could bypass the protections related to Section 230.

          “Section 230’s coverage is not complete: it excepts federal criminal liability and intellectual property law.”

          If Rentboy wasn’t generating illicit content, holding them liable would be like holding Reason liable for death threats made on its forum or something.

        3. They’re an organization that hooks people up with hot young men and then warns those hot young men when there is a prostitution sting in the area.

          And we’re an organization that hooks patients up with doctors, and then warns our staff (and those doctors) that the federal government has made fraud and abuse an enforcement priority.

      2. Same with lawyers who advise on the limits of any laws relating to anything.

  3. Trying…. to… care….

    Can’t… do…. it…

    1. Well… in principle…

    2. First they came for the rentboys…

    3. Don’t strain yourself there, big boy.

  4. “The DOJ wants a payday. The final four pages of the indictment list everything the U.S. attorney’s office wants to seize and keep from Rentboy.com. It includes $71,000 taken from Rentboy.com’s, office, about $228,000 from four different bank accounts (including Hurant’s personal bank account), approximately $1.2 million from two Ameritrade accounts held by Hurant and Easy Rent Systems, and ownership of the Rentboy.com Internet domain name.”

    Okay, I was wrong. This infuriates me too. One would think that if sex trafficking is such a scourge that money should go to helping sex trafficking victims rather than lining the DOJ’s pockets.

  5. How can anyone believe these guys are innocent? They had a private server! They inputted certain codes! They instructed their staff to review emails! Most sensitive nature under the sun! Obligation under oath! I saw a blackberry! That’s the backstory! Someone get me my woodchipper!!!

    1. How do you hate man-whores so, by comparing them to someone as disgusting and unethical as Hillary?

    2. Show us on the doll where the rentboy touched you, AM.

      1. Haha I wish. Rentboy prices are too damn high. Seriously who can afford that? I won’t miss them one bit. Thanks FBI for keeping sex risky and cheap.

  6. So now we should be infuriated that they’re pointing out that rentboy was renting out boys?

    Look, I think people should be able to do whatever they consent freely to do with their bodies–that includes selling it, or renting it out, and I support policies and candidates who see things my way.

    I also understand that society is not yet as enlightened as I am, and finds a lot of what I accept to be illegal.

    So I understand that, if I get caught doing something society considers illegal, I’m gonna have to deal with the consequences of my actions.

    So why should the sainted founder of rentboy be treated any different?

    1. It’s like nobody here is familiar with the same law that makes Reason not liable for commenters saying they’d like to see people thrown into woodchippers. The way they handled prostitution, as described in the above article and the indictment:

      The indictment notes that escort advertisements in advance and told escorts they could not actually offer sex for money, because that was illegal. What they could offer was their time in exchange for money.

      was in compliance with previous rulings on how Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should be applied, such as a similar case in 2009 involving Craigslist. Now please continue masturbating furiously about your well-formed opinions on this case.

      1. Yeah. I know that. They used weasel words to hide what they were doing. Everyone understands.

        People get busted all the time when their weasel words don’t weasel good enough that one time. Why should we cry over rentboy particularly?

        1. You’ve convinced me!

          If you ever get arrested over one of the three felonies you likely commit every day, we’ll not waste any time caring about you.

        2. Were you upset that they went after Reason because of commenters commenting about woodchippers?

          If section 230 protections fail for places like rentboy, they’ll fail for comment sections, facebooks and everything else with user-generated content. This law defines the rules for the internet as we know it. But fuck it, fags are icky and apparently “saint” people so fuck them, amirite!?

  7. Fucking rent-seekers.

    1. Fucking [rent-seekers]? Or [fucking-rent] seekers? Works both ways.

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