Charges Dropped Against Six Staff

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North America and Caribbean Regional Correspondent

The US government has dropped criminal charges against six employees, it was announced Wednesday. The news comes a week after CEO Jeffery Hurant plead not guilty to charges.

Hurant and six other staff at the male escort ad website were arrested in August 2015 following a long investigation by law enforcement. They are being charged with laws related to sex work and money laundering. The escorting ad website was founded in 1996. It has run without incident prior to the raid by law enforcement.

Federal prosecutor Tyler Smith stated that they are in negotiations with Hurant to reach a plea deal. However, Hurant’s lawyer Michael Tremont looks forward to bringing the case to trial.

“Mr. Hurant did not commit a crime,” Tremonte told the NY Post. “He ran his business openly and lawfully for 20 years. It makes no sense to single him out for prosecution as the government has done. We look forward to his full vindication at trial.”

The arrests at have been met with protest by sex workers and members of the LGBT community. Xbiz reports that activists showed up in support of Hurant at his last court date on the 10th of February, 2016. Activist William Dobs told Xbiz, “several dozen people protested outside the courthouse calling for the charges to be dropped and for the decriminalization of sex work.”

NSWP released a statement condemning the raids and arrests at on the 1st of September, 2015, which can be found here.

It reads in part, “NSWP, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, emphatically condemns the actions of the USA’s Department of Homeland Security and federal prosecutors in New York for the raid on the offices of and the arrests of seven of its staff members. This action appears to be a blatant, morally-driven discriminatory attack on gay consensual sex.”

The raid on follows similar law enforcement actions against online escort advertisers, such as Backpage and the closure of escort ads on Squirt following government pressure.

NSWP’s statement highlights the need for third party advertisers, “Sex workers need to be able to communicate openly with clients and managers without constantly fearing arrest, police harassment or worse. Sex workers often use advertising websites to screen clients for their own safety.”

The original criminal complaint against CEO and staff can be read here. As mentioned in NSWP’s statement, “The New York Times Editorial Board have stated that the criminal complaint that resulted in this raid was ‘so saturated with sexually explicit details, it’s hard not to interpret it as an indictment of gay men as being sexually promiscuous.’”

Following a motion from the prosecution, a judge dismissed all charges against the six employees. It is unclear if charges were dropped as part of plea deals with the employees. CEO Hurant’s charges still stand. Xbiz reports that the next court date will be the 15th of March in Brooklyn, New York.