Gay panic! Homeland Security raids Rentboy, has your names, emails
The agency set up to protect you from terrorism swarmed the offices of the New York-based website and charged Rentboy’s boss and six others with running an illegal ‘Internet brothel.’
By John A. Oswald
August 26, 2014
There’s a whole different kind of gay panic going on Wednesday morning in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and around the planet after America’s terror hunters, with the backing of the NYPD, took down Rentboy.com.
Homeland Security, the federal government agency set up after after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, was in charge of the operation.
As NYPD officers wearing reflective shades and blue windbreakers stood by, the feds marched along 14th Street, near 5th Avenue in Manhattan, carrying box after box after box stamped “evidence” from the Union Square headquarters of Rentboy.
And oh yeah, they took quite a few computers
"As alleged, 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," Brooklyn acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie said in a statement.
Here’s the scandal by the the numbers:
- 7 employees, including CEO Jeffrey Hurant, were charged with racketeering and promoting prostitution across state and international borders.
- 10,000 escorts paid at least $60 a month to advertise their services.
- 2,100 cities are featured.
- 6 languages: The site has English, French, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Cantonese versions.
- 500,000 “members” visit the site daily.
- $10 million: Site’s gross receipts since 2010.
“I don’t think we do anything to promote prostitution,” Hurant said outside court after posting $350,000 bond. “I think we do good things for good people, and bring good people together.”
Rentboy.com’s slogan — and it has one — is, “Money can’t buy you love but the rest is negotiable.”
RELATED: Inside Jara's escape, story of a trans sex worker.
It has long posted, despite the very explicit nature of photos and postings on the site, that it is not a home for sex workers.
YouTube videos, the website itself, and interviews with the company’s top dogs, including one with Out Magazine’s Michael Musto (from when he was at The Village Voice), are cited in the court documents, as posted by Andy Towle’s gay news site, Towelroad and embedded below.
Towle notes on Facebook that Homeland Security agents “spent time investigating rim seats and slings.”
So why was the United States Department of Homeland Security involved? To be specific: the Homeland Security Investigations arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement?
The agency notes on its website that it has five “core missions.”
It seems the charges against Rentboy fall under its jurisdiction. The exact alleged violation: "conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promoting prostitution."
Yes. The Travel Act.
Critics -- and the CEO’s lawyer -- questioned why the feds targeted the gay site now, which has been online for nearly two decades.
“Rentboy has been an institution in the gay community since 1997, ” Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, an LGBT political group, told Gay City News.
“There are people who need networks like this in order to have sex… An institution like this, which has served the community for many years, is being picked on.”
Amnesty International only recently called for a decriminalization of sex work.
Hurant’s lawyer Charles Hochbaum argues that the arrests and the expected shutdown of Rentboy, is a First Amendment matter.
“My client advertises for people who are willing to be escorts , to accompany people for their time and be paid,” he told The Times.
“He’s upset and confused about how this legitimate business could become the subject of a Homeland Security investigation,” he said.