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Seven arrested over multimillion-dollar ‘internet brothel' Rentboy.com

The site's terms of service explicitly banned prostitution

Rentboy.com

The owners of Rentboy.com describe their business as "the world's largest male escort site," but federal authorities claim that it is, in fact, an "internet brothel." On Tuesday, law enforcement officers arrested the site's chief executive and six employees, charging them with promoting illegal prostitution. Each defendant faces up to five years in jail and fines of up to $250,000, although Rentboy.com's chief executive Jeffrey Hurant maintains that the site is a legal business which allows escorts to advertise their company and be paid for their time in return.

rentboy.com's terms of service banned explicit prostitution

The site, which was founded in 1997, hosts a number of disclaimers telling visitors that profiles are used to advertise companionship only. A cached version of the homepage shows a user agreement which visitors have to accept before entering the site. It reads: "This site may not be used for the advertising of sexual services or to engage in activities requiring the payment of money for sex or other illegal activities."

According to the complaint from the Department of Justice, visitors are charged a minimum of $59.95 to access Rentboy.com, with fees rising "up to several hundred dollars" a month to post profiles at different levels of exposure around the site. Escorts can list their "primary interests," ranging from "vanilla" to various fetishes such as leather, S&M, and role play. Users can then search profiles based on these and other categories including escorts' fees, their overnight charges, and preferred sexual positions. Profiles often "contain nude pictures and indications relating to their penis size," notes the complaint.

Rentboy.com had 500,000 unique visitors a day and allegedly made $10 million since 2010

"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 T. Currie in a press statement. The complaint claims that the site receives approximately 500,000 unique visitors every day, with 70 percent of these originating in the United States. Although the site is currently offline, authorities note that between 2010 and 2015, Rentboy.com collected "over $10 million in gross proceeds."

The complaint says that profiles on Rentboy.com often linked to a separate site named DaddysReviews.com, that contains "explicit reviews of the escorts written by previous customers." A statement on DaddysReviews currently advises users not to panic and to find out "what the law is in your jurisdiction." The message also notes that the case is "interesting" and that "between the inconsistencies, the contradictions, the outright disingenuous misrepresentations, hearsay allegations, and the blatant reinterpretations to push every hot button in sight, one has wonder about the political motivations at work here."

Hurant's lawyer told reporters outside a court in Brooklyn on Tuesday that the executive was "upset and confused about how this legitimate business could become the subject of a Homeland Security investigation." Hurant himself said: "I don't think that we do anything to promote prostitution. I think we do good things for good people, and we bring good people together."