Federal agents and New York City police raided the Manhattan offices of an online male escort service Tuesday, arresting the site's CEO and six of his employees.
Rentboy.com chief executive Jeffrey Hurant and six others were arraigned in federal court in Brooklyn on charges of promoting prostitution across state lines. Prosecutors say the site sold advertisements for high-priced male prostitutes for several hundred dollars, then charged customers up to $299 per month to access the ads. The operation took in more than $10 million since 2010, prosecutors said.
Hurant, 50, was released on $350,000 bond. Outside court, he and his lawyer insisted his business was a legitimate companionship service, and that similar escort websites elsewhere have operated without becoming the target of a federal investigation.
"I think we do good things for good people, and bring good people together," Hurant said.
Rentboy.com had pointed users to disclaimers that set guidelines banning offers of sex in exchange for money. But a criminal complaint cited several ads that referred to various sex acts, offered reviews of sexual performance and listed rates ranging from $150 an hour to $3,500 for a weekend.
"As alleged, Rentboy.com attempted to present a veneer of legality, when in fact this internet [sic] brothel made millions of dollars from promotion of illegal prostitution," Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie said in a statement.
Hurant claimed in interviews he learned that the term "rentboy" was British slang for male escorts while he was attending Oxford University, according to the criminal complaint. He has said he started the website because "escorts were a disenfranchised group," it says.
"We just want to keep the oldest profession in the world up to date with all the latest technology," the complaint quotes him as saying.
Rentboy.com also hosted an annual awards show for escorts called the Hookies, the complaint says. Asked by an undercover investigator who went to the 2015 Hookies how the show started, Hurant responded, "Have you ever had sex with anyone and it was so good you had to tell someone? That's what this is about," the complaint says
Each defendant faces up to five years in prison if convicted of conspiring to commit crimes involving interstate or foreign travel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.