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United States v. Hurant

United States District Court, E.D. New York

August 1, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JEFFREY HURANT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          MARGO K. BRODIE United States District Judge

         Defendant Jeffrey Hurant was indicted by a grand jury on charges of promoting prostitution in violation of the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C § 1952(a)(3)(A) and New York Penal Law sections 230.25 and 230.20 for running Rentboy.com, a website that purported to be a site that connected escorts with clients. (Indictment ¶ 27, Docket Entry No. 92.) Defendant's company, Easy Rent Systems, Inc., was also indicted on charges of conspiring to launder money obtained from unlawful activity in violation 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a) and (h). (Id. ¶¶ 28-31.) Defendant pled guilty to promotion of prostitution and is scheduled to be sentenced on August 2, 2017. (Minute Entry dated Oct. 7, 2016, Docket Entry No. 105.)

         In the Pre-sentencing Report (the “PSR”), the United States Probation Department recommends that, under the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual (the “Sentencing Guidelines”), the Court should apply a base offense level of fourteen. (PSR Addendum 3, Docket Entry No. 120.) Defendant objects to the recommendation in the PSR, arguing that the Court should apply a base offense level of six. (Def. Letter dated July 20, 2016, “Def. Letter”) at 1-4, Docket Entry No. 126.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court rejects Defendant's argument for a base offense level of six.

         I. Background

         Defendant is the owner and operator of Easy Rent Systems, Inc., which owns the Rentboy.com website. (Tr. of Plea Allocution (“Tr.”) 3, 6, 39, Docket Entry No. 107.) Defendant started the Rentboy.com website in January of 1996. (Tr. 6.) From January of 1996 to August of 2015, Rentboy.com purported to be a website that connected escorts with clients, but in actuality was a commercial venture that “accepted payments from multiple [escorts in return for] promot[ing] their [willingness to] exchange [] sexual conduct in return for a fee.” (Tr. 39.) Based on that conduct, Defendant, on behalf of Easy Rent Systems Inc., pled guilty to conspiring to launder money obtained from an unlawful activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a) and (h). (Tr. 13, 27-28.) Defendant, on his own behalf, pled guilty to the promotion of prostitution in violation of 18 U.S.C § 1952(a)(3)(A) and New York Penal Law sections 230.25 and 230.20. (Tr. 12, 38-39.) Defendant is scheduled to be sentenced on August 2, 2017.

         II. Discussion

         Defendant argues that, under the Sentencing Guidelines, his base offense level should be six because (1) a federal misdemeanor offense is the most analogous federal law to promotion of prostitution under New York law, and (2) he only pled to the misdemeanor offense - New York Penal Law section 230.20 -, not to the felony offense - New York Penal Law section 230.25. (Def. Letter at 1-4.) The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         a. The Mann Act is the most analogous federal offense to promotion of prostitution under New York law

         Defendant's base offense level under the Sentencing Guidelines depends on what federal offense is most analogous to the underlying state offense he was charged with. The parties disagree on what federal statute is most analogous to promotion of prostitution under New York law. The government argues and the PSR recommends that promotion of prostitution under New York law is most analogous to the Mann Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2421, which, under the Sentencing Guidelines, carries a base offense level of fourteen. (PSR Addendum 3; Gov't Letter dated July 16, 2017 at 3-5, Docket Entry No. 125.) Defendant, on the other hand, argues that the most analogous federal offense is 18 U.S.C. § 1384, which bars the facilitation of prostitution near a location owned by the federal armed forces, and carries a base offense level of six. (Def. Letter at 2-4.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that the Mann Act is the most analogous federal offense to the promotion of prostitution under New York law, and therefore, the applicable base offense level is fourteen.

         Section 2E1.2(a)(2) of the Sentencing Guidelines provides that an individual guilty of violating the Travel Act[1] should receive “the [base] offense level applicable to the underlying crime of violence or other unlawful activity.” U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2E1.2(a)(2) (U.S. Sentencing Comm'n 2016). Application Note Two of section 2E1.2 states that “[i]f the underlying conduct violates state law, the offense level corresponding to the most analogous federal offense is to be used.” Id. § 2E1.2 cmt. n.2.

         As charged in the Indictment, the underlying unlawful activities were violations of New York Penal Law sections 230.25 and 230.20. New York Penal Law section 230.25 provides in pertinent part:

A person is guilty of promoting prostitution in the third degree when he or she knowingly [a]dvances or profits from prostitution by managing, supervising, controlling or owning, either alone or in association with others, a house of prostitution or a prostitution business or enterprise involving prostitution activity by two or more persons in prostitution, or a business that sells travel-related services knowing that such services include or are intended to facilitate travel for the purpose of patronizing a person for prostitution, including to a foreign jurisdiction and regardless of the legality of prostitution in said foreign jurisdiction. . . . Promoting prostitution in the third degree is a class D Felony.

N.Y. Penal Law § 230.25. New York Penal Law section 230.20 provides in pertinent part:

A person is guilty of promoting prostitution in the fourth degree when he or she knowingly [a]dvances or profits from prostitution. . . . Promoting prostitution in the ...

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