The New York City offices of Rentboy.com were raided by US federal agents on Tuesday – and several staff arrested including the chief exec. The website claims to be the world's largest online directory of male escorts.
In an affidavit [NSFW PDF] filed in a Brooklyn court ahead of the swoop, US Department of Homeland Security special agent Susan Ruiz claimed the business had been facilitating prostitution for the past 18 years.
Seven of the dot-com's staffers, including CEO Jeffrey Hurant, were promptly arrested and charged with flouting state laws against the world's oldest profession.
Agent Ruiz alleged that Rentboy.com knowingly allowed male prostitutes to solicit sexual favors for money. According to her affidavit, the website received over 500,000 visitors per day and amassed $10m in revenues between 2010 and 2015.
Rentboy.com has been taken down. Archives of the site show that visitors are shown a warning screen notifying them that the service may not be used for advertising sexual services for money or other illegal activities.
"The advertisements on Rentboy.com are clearly for sexual services; and Rentboy.com's owner and employees have made statements that the site's purpose is for facilitating illegal prostitution," Agent Ruiz told the Eastern District Court of New York.
She quoted Hurant and others describing how the website operates, and what it does and doesn't allow escorts – who pay hundreds of dollars to maintain profiles and post advertisements on the dot-com – to say on the site. It cost at least $59.95 a month to register as a companion-for-hire.
The special agent also described, in vivid detail, the various steamy language used in the profiles, and examples of the escorts' saucy ads. Her affidavit does not say why the site, as it stands accused, had been allowed to operate since 1997.
“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,” said acting United States Attorney Kelly Currie in a statement.
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) confirmed on Tuesday it had charged seven defendants with "conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promoting prostitution." Each of the accused – who are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty – faces up to five years in prison, and a maximum fine of $250,000. ®