IMG_4246The terms of service on the website said that people could not use it to exchange money for sex. But federal authorities, who called it the largest online male-escort service and arrested the site’s chief executive and several other employees on Tuesday, said that was exactly what was happening.

The chief executive, Jeffrey Hurant, 50, and six other current or former employees appeared in Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Aug 25, 2015 on charges of promoting prostitution.

Although the site, founded in 1997, required visitors to accept the terms of service, the criminal complaint said visitors would arrive at a home page stocked with escorts’ profiles listing sexual services and fees. Escorts pay to post the profiles, and the site’s visitors contact them directly to arrange meetings.

The site, whose headquarters are on 14th Street at Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, has had $10 million in sales since 2010, the criminal complaint says.

“ attempted to present a veneer of legality, when in fact this Internet brothel made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution,” acting United States attorney for New York’s Eastern District, said in a statement.

The lawyer for Mr. Hurant, said outside court that the case represented a First Amendment issue.

“My client advertises for people who are willing to be escorts, to accompany people for their time and be paid,” he said.

“He’s upset and confused about how this legitimate business could become the subject of a Homeland Security investigation,” he said. The Homeland Security Investigations arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement was involved in the investigation, apparently because it believed the site promoted prostitution across state and national borders.

“I don’t think we do anything to promote prostitution,” Mr. Hurant said. “I think we do good things for good people, and bring good people together.”

Putting up profiles costs escorts $59.95 to $299.95 a month, depending on how visible the ads are, according to the complaint. Website members then contact them.

Escorts list “primary interests,” ranging from “vanilla” (“nice and clean”) to leather to role play to other fetishes. “A user can filter by a number of categories,” from primary interests to preferred sexual position, the complaint says. There are also fields for the escort’s pay rates, the complaint says, including overnight and weekend rates.

A separate website,, “contains explicit reviews of the escorts written by previous customers,” the complaint says.

In one profile quoted in the complaint, an escort in Manhattan advertising as Ryan Raz said, “I have an innocent shy mid-west look, but once you get me behind closed doors it’s an amazing experience.” He charged $300 per hour for a standard visit.

Some of the complaint details “the Hookies,” or the International Escort Awards, which the website holds each year. The site’s marketing banter for the awards described them as “covering all aspects of the oldest profession as presented in the newest media,” according to the complaint.

At the 2015 Hookies, held this year at a West 42nd Street hotel, an undercover agent approached Mr. Hurant, who gave the agent a business card with the email address on it and explained that the Hookies were about celebrating sex “so good, you had to tell someone.”

One of the other six defendants is Michael Sean Belman, 47, the director of the site. According to the complaint, Mr. Belman has given interviews indicating that he knows the escorts are offering sex, such as describing the Hookies winners as “sexual therapists.”

Another of those arrested was Edward Lorenz Estanol, 23, an escort, Hookies award nominee and former social-media coordinator for the site. He charged $300 an hour, or $3,000 for a weekend, the complaint says. On his personal website, he wrote that “escorting is a great way to explore your sexuality and get paid doing it,” the complaint says.

Another is Diana Milagros Mattos, 43, a former saleswoman, who had “a Twitter account in which she identified herself as the ‘escort whisperer’ ” while she worked at, the complaint says, and tried to help escorts increase their social-media presence so they would get more clients.

All of the defendants except for Mr. Lukas made their initial appearances in Federal District Court on Tuesday and were released on bonds ranging from $50,000 each for Ms. Mattos, Mr. Estanol and Mr. Calero to $350,000 for Mr. Hurant. Mr. Lukas was arrested and made his initial appearance in South Dakota.

Conviction carries a maximum penalty for each defendant of five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. The government said Tuesday morning that it was trying to seize the domain, which was not loading as of Tuesday afternoon.