Federal agents raided the Manhattan headquarters of Rentboy.com as part of a state prostitution investigation Tuesday, authorities said.
Seven people, including CEO Jeffrey Hurant, were arrested as part of the raid at the Rentboy.com offices on 14th Street and Fifth Avenue. Department of Homeland Security agents and members of the NYPD, which assisted in the raid, were seen removing boxes from the offices Tuesday.
Law enforcement sources had initially told NBC 4 New York the suspects faced money laundering in addition to prostitition charges, but money laundering was not included in the official criminal complaint.
The site bills itself as "the world's destination to meet the perfect male escort or masseur," and boasts a database of more than 10,500 men in more than 2,100 cities worldwide.
Users can search for a rentboy or masseur on the site by country and city, as well as by rate, age, talents and a variety of physical features.
Escorts pay up to several hundred dollars to advertise their services on the site, which charges subscribers a minimum monthly fee of $59.95, according to the criminal complaint. Between 2010 and 2015, Rentboy.com had more than $10 million in gross proceeds.
More than $1.4 million from six bank accounts was seized in connection with the probe, according to court documents. The government said it was taking steps to shut down the website.
A Facebook page for Rentboy.com, says the site, founded in 1997, is the first and largest website to focus on male escorts. The company's Twitter page says, "Money can’t buy you love but everything else is negotiable."
While the site has disclaimers stating that the advertisements are for companionship and not sexual services, prosecutors say Rentboy.com is designed primarily for advertising illegal prostitution.
"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," Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Kelly Currie said in a statement.
The Department of Homeland Security was involved in the raid in part because the investigation involves transferring money across state lines.
"The facilitation and promotion of prostitution offenses across state lines and international borders is a federal crime made even more egregious when it's blatantly advertised by a global criminal enterprise," Glenn Sorge, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York, said in a statement.
The seven defendants, all from New York City, are charged with conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promotion prostitution. At their court appearance Tuesday, they denied wrongdoing and were released on bail. If convicted, they could face up to five years in prison.
Defense attorney Anthony Ricco said, "Generally people don’t advertise in the international Internet the commission of crimes. And so it makes one pause and wonder you know what are the boundaries for this type of activity."