Ex-Rentboy.com CEO near plea deal in prostitution case

August 17, 2016 2:11 PM EDT

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By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The former chief executive of male escort website Rentboy.com is finalizing a plea agreement after his indictment for promoting prostitution, his lawyers said on Wednesday, in a case that has outraged gay and civil rights activists.

In a letter filed in federal court in Brooklyn, lawyers for Jeffrey Hurant, 51, said they were finishing up details of the agreement, and asked that a plea hearing be scheduled for the week of Aug. 29.

The filing does not detail to which charges Hurant or Easy Rent Systems Inc, which did business as Rentboy.com, would potentially plead guilty. Both were indicted on three counts including promotion of prostitution and money laundering.

Hurant and the company had both previously pleaded not guilty.

Noam Biale, a lawyer for Hurant, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers also declined comment.

The potential plea comes a year after the August 2015 arrest of Hurant and six employees of Rentboy.com, which authorities say was the largest online male escort website.

The website, which was founded in 1996 and targeted gay men, carried disclaimers saying its advertisements for escorts were for companionship and not sexual services. But authorities say Rentboy.com was intended primarily to promote prostitution.

Escorts paid at least $59.95 per month and up to several hundred dollars to advertise on Rentboy.com, which attracted 500,000 unique visitors daily and generated more than $10 million from 2010 to 2015, prosecutors said.

The case prompted criticism from some gay rights activists and sex worker rights groups, who questioned why prosecutors were targeting the service after it had operated transparently for nearly two decades.

Critics of the case have included The New York Times, which in an editorial in August 2015 said prosecutors had not justified shutting down "a company that provided sex workers with a safer alternative to street walking or relying on pimps."

Following the criticism, federal prosecutors in February dropped charges against the six Rentboy employees. But they continued to prosecute Hurant and the company itself.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

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